An ecologist on a mission to create a ‘Homegrown National Park’ in the US has written a new book to get children inspired.
How do you get kids engaged with gardening and wildlife?
For US ecologist and entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of a new book on the subject, it starts with asking them to look closely at their backyard.
Did you see “a single animal - a bird, a bug, a snake, a mammal of any size - hop, fly, flutter, slither, crawl, or creep past?” he asks, “You’re right. You don’t. But you should.”
Tallamy has become a leading evangelist for the return of native plants and trees in America, as part of his mission to create a pollinator-friendly “Homegrown National Park”. There’s no limits on size; anyone with a yard, patio or windowsill can chip in.
And as Nature’s Best Hope: How You Can Save the World in Your Own Yard illustrates, no gardener is too young to take part either. The book is aimed at 11-14 year olds in time for Earth Day.
“The idea is that kids are the future stewards of our planet,” Tallamy tells AP. “My average audience is retired folks, but we can’t wait another generation. I get contacted by kids all the time, and this is stuff you can do and actually see results.”
The young reader's edition follows his influential 1999 book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard, and has been adapted for middle schoolers by Sarah Thomson.
How can kids get involved in eco-friendly gardening?
Little things can make a big difference.
“You don’t have to worry about the entire planet. Just do something about the little piece of the planet that you can do something about. That’s really motivating for parents as well as kids,” Tallamy says.
_Nature's Best Hope_lists easy changes that kids can make at home to create better habitat for insects and birds.
For instance, switch out a white lightbulb on your porch for a yellow one that’s less attractive to insects. Reduce the amount of lawn. Or plant some native plants.
The book includes a few easy projects like building a “bee hotel” out of an empty metal can and strips of paper, or covering window wells so little creatures don’t get trapped in them.
“Or just plant an acorn. It’s free and easy and you can watch it grow, and it makes a big difference,” Tallamy says.
He envisions all the little pollinator-friendly patches - a proliferation of gardens and public spaces - sewn loosely together to form Homegrown National Park.
The nationwide movement also encourages parks, playgrounds, schools and colleges, hospitals and office buildings, golf courses and even airports to join in.
Teachers are on board too
Spreading the word that what we do at home can improve the environment is important, says Tai Montanarella. She teaches kindergarten through high school kids about native plants as the New York Botanical Garden’s associate director of school and out-of-school programming.
“At the heart of Tallamy’s book is the observation of plants, and the interaction between plants and birds and insects. It underscores the connectivity of our food web and of society,” says Montanarella.
“Kids sometimes feel a greater sense of urgency and call to action than adults. Many of these ideas seem sensible and practical for kids, while they can be a heavier lift for adults sometimes.”
What other books are good for teaching kids about the natural world?
For younger children, Montanarella recommends the picture book ‘The Garden Next Door’ by Collin Pine (River Horse Books), about children who investigate why their neighbour's yard has more birds, fireflies and other natural wonders than their own.
And she recommends the list of books for children and teens compiled by the New York Botanical Garden's LuEsther T. Mertz Library on its website.
Adults, Montanarella says, can be more receptive to messages when they come from passionate kids.
Kids can influence adults to garden better
In Pelham, New York, Anna Simonsen-Meehan had all the English ivy removed from her property border and gently asked her neighbours if they’d consider doing the same, since it’s invasive and creeps into her native plantings. Nothing happened.
But when her 7-year-old son, Alrik, recently encountered one of the neighbours on the sidewalk and gave him an impassioned lecture about how invasive English ivy is, the man listened carefully.
“I mean, what else can you do when a child is speaking with such sincerity and passion?” his mother said. And now the ivy is gone.
“I said, ‘Don’t you want to remove that ivy? It’s invasive.’ He was definitely listening,” recalled Alrik, who has been involved in removing invasive plants and encouraging native ones both at home and in the community.
“Nature is everywhere,” Tallamy writes in the introduction to Nature's Best Hope, after asking kids to spend five minutes looking outside. “That’s a good thing because human beings like you and me wouldn’t last a day without it.”
“That’s what this book is about - how to create a yard that is a real part of the natural world. The kind of yard where, if you look closely, something is moving.”