This morning, I swung by Church Cove before heading into work. It was initially sunny, but as I took the windy road to the beach, the heavens opened and fat droplets of rain smattered across my windshield, causing a rainbow to arc over the horizon. I was only at the beach briefly, a few deep breaths of air taken, before grabbing a handful of rocks and scooting back into the car again, realising that time had slipped away from me during my morning dog cuddles and I was on the verge of being late.
I took the flat, smooth stones into work with me, ready to paint them with silly designs to be spread out around the sanctuary site. It is a small gesture; a little game for children to play. Finding painted rocks has become a bit of a craze and up and down the country there are people painting and hiding such stones for children to seek out and then hide for another excited party. It might not sound much, but anything that encourages children to be outside is a winner in my book, and often the stones have a wildlife theme to them.
We talk a lot about the next generation and wildlife, often focussing on how children are disengaged, discouraged and unaware of the natural world around them. They spend too much time indoors, we claim, eyes glued to a technology of some kind, totally unaware that around them, the planet is falling to pieces. I have read countless articles arguing how we change this, engaged in multiple debates about how it is children in poverty, or in a certain geographical location who are most disengaged. Or it is the parents fault, or their peers, or their teachers. We cannot seem to find the definitive answer that we seek so hard, the problem seemingly unsolvable.
But last week, whilst attending a meeting on local plastic pollution, I listened to a woman talk about some interesting research. Positivity outweighs negativity she claimed. The theory goes like this: if you put out positive facts and figures, people will be encouraged to follow suit. For example, if you say ‘54% of people recycle!’, then others will think ‘well if they do it, I can do it too’. Whereas if you put out negative facts, for example, ‘Only 54% of people bother to recycle’ then the message received is ‘oh well, if no one else bothers then I won’t either’. According to research, sending out positive messaging is more likely to lead to changes in behaviour.
I think we should be applying this to children and nature. Constantly berating them and trying to pick apart why they don’t love nature doesn’t exactly encourage them to become interested.
It is this reason why I helped set up youth natural history magazine, New Nature and why I spend my time talking to, and encouraging, young naturalists to try and make their way in the world. Yes, they may seem ‘uncool’ to some people, but if more and more them are brave, stand up and say ‘we love nature’, then it will give others the confidence to follow.
And it is our responsibility to encourage them to have the platform to do so. If we keep saying ‘kids don’t like nature’, then it becomes strange, weird and something to avoid. But if we celebrate, focus on the positives, and shout about all those young naturalists out there, it will instill confidence, and hopefully their successes will encourage other young people to take an interest and find their wild passions too.