A parent recently sent me this question via email: “Our preschool daughters caught a lizard in the backyard and my husband told them they could keep it in a jar. I told them it was nature and they had to let it go. They both threw a tantrum and a meltdown ensued. Should I have gone along with my husband?”
Aside from the fact that the parents were not working together as a mutually supportive team, they were also too focused on the lizard as an object. Instead, they could have used the capture of this lizard as an opportunity to teach the girls a little bit about respecting nature, our partnership with the world around us and an appreciation for different life forms.
To this mom I would say “You were both right.” There is so much to show and teach your children about this remarkable world we live in. Match the wonders of nature with the powerful sense of wonder in your children’s mind and you might just get them away from the computer, the television and the DVDs long enough to learn more. You might even have some memorable together-time moments that will build your relationship with them.
I suggest she allow them to keep it very briefly and then let it go. While holding it in a glass jar to be examined, take some digital pictures of it and allow the children to decide which ones are their favorites. Take the kids to the local library and research just exactly what a lizard is, what it eats and the most favorable conditions for its habitat. Allow the children to decide where they’ll let the little creature go and allow them to participate in the release as much as possible.
This situation is also a great opportunity for an outing to your local state park to walk and examine more nature first hand. Before you leave, see if the park has a Web site with a schedule of planned activities. During the warmer months many parks have activities designed to encourage our children to connect with nature. You’ll find nature walks, demonstrations, re-enactments, guided tours and arts and craft events, just to name a few.
Once the little creature is released, it doesn’t mean he’s gone and the experience is over. Instead, the creativity can now begin. Go back to those digital photos you saved and pull them into an art or photo computer program to modify. You can blow them up, print them out, or modify them with special effects to create some wonderful art projects. There are special programs for children that will allow for importing photos so the kids can color them or decorate them. If you don’t have software that will allow you to do that, pull the pictures up on the screen and allow your children to draw and color their own free-hand versions of the creature to share with family.
At this point the little lizard is physically gone but the experience can continue as your children explore their own imagination and creativity as the result of an actual experience. Capturing a little piece of live nature temporarily to see and enjoy can be so enriching when someone is there to coach them properly. It’s also a great opportunity to shut off all the electronic noise around them for a while and allow them to open their eyes to the true beauty around them.