Last Child in the Woods, an acclaimed book by Richard Louv, shows how our children have become increasingly alienated and distant from nature, why this matters, and what we can do to make a difference.

“Camping in the garden, riding bikes through the woods, climbing trees, collecting bugs, picking wildflowers, running through piles of autumn leaves…These are the things childhood memories are made of. But for a whole generation of today’s children the pleasures of a free-range childhood are missing, and their indoor habits contribute to epidemic obesity, attention-deficit disorder, isolation and childhood depression.”

For many children in the Overstrand this is indeed true. Rapid urbanisation is happening even in the ’rural’ towns along the Whale Coast. Many parents do not have the means, or indeed the knowledge, to guide their children to experience the natural world.

This is the huge gap Whale Coast Conservation (WCC) wishes to fill. It provides opportunities for youngsters to go on eco-camps or holiday programmes with an environmental focus. But the numbers that can be accommodated are small.

So if one cannot take children to nature, one can attempt to bring nature to the children. The WCC schools expos are taken to 16 schools across the Overstrand. Wherever possible, the children are introduced to real life specimens. Take for example the expo in the first term of 2018 that highlighted some creatures of the fynbos. One of the 5 displays comprising the expo showed a complete butterfly life cycle – from egg to caterpillar, to pupa and finally the adult butterfly. The daily demolition of a sprig of leaves illustrated the story of the “very hungry caterpillar” and its role in the life cycle of an insect – eating as much as possible. There was great excitement when the pupa started wriggling due to the butterfly’s attempt to break free – to assume its role in life of mating and flying to distant locations to spread the species.

The children were amazed to learn that each of these different forms of the insect contained exactly the same DNA and that turning gene expression on and off can lead to such different forms. Hence we have the term ‘metamorphosis’ meaning ‘different forms’.

The talk on spiders was another favourite with a real rain spider nest and a live rain spider – well almost alive. It had been paralysed by a wasp with the intention of laying its egg on the ‘fresh’ larder, but in effect preserving it as the perfect expo specimen.

If the children found the exhibits stimulating, so did the WCC staff and volunteers who presented the information. The feedback we received was positive: “I think the expos are priceless, the level of touch/see/smell/hear transfer of knowledge is powerful and I believe it leaves the children with a pleasant association with environmental matters” – Elisabeth Smit. “My overall impression is one of general satisfaction from all parties involved: teaching staff, learners and presenters alike. I thought the expos would stick in these impressionable minds and am convinced that some, if not all, of the salient information would be preserved in the minds of the young audience” – Mike Dormer.

About the Author

 

Whale Coast Conservation passionately lives by its slogan “Caring for your environment”.

Its small staff and volunteers are dedicated to

  • raising community and visitor awareness of the unique, biodiverse natural resources of the Cape Whale Coast region and
  • to projects that convert awareness into practical actions that lead towards living sustainably.

WCC ensures expert representation in public participation processes that contribute to environmental and developmental policies and legislation.  We monitor regional development; and ensure compliance with legislation and guidelines.

WCC increases general public awareness of sustainability through environmental education, citizen-science research projects, community projects and campaigns.

WCC communicates with its audience through exhibitions, signage, technology demonstrations, workshops, talks, film shows, newsletters and articles.

WCC places emphasis on educating future generations through its Youth Environment Programme (YEP).  YEP is offered to 24 schools in its target area with a total of over 10,000 learners.

WCC facilitates schools’ participation in special events such as Earth Day, Walking for Water, Arbor Day and Coastal Clean-ups.

WCC facilitates educator development programmes to improve the capacity of educators to offer informed environmental content in their lessons across all learning streams.

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