Ecological literacy

Cornwall park adventure Luna collecting specimens

Luna collecting a seedling specimen she found, with plans to plant it up at home

I came across this article recently, entitled; ‘Identification of animals and plants is an essential skill set‘ it gave me pause for thought. The article posits that ‘ecological literacy’ is essential for us as a species and for the future of our planet. It tells us that some students of biology are lacking field skills and knowledge of plants and animals around them. That’s serious. The article is talking about students of biology.

Blockhouse Bay Luna and Blake looking for fossils4

Hoping to find fossils

While we live in a mostly urban environment, we spend quite a bit of time outdoors, looking and listening, the children observing and sometimes playing with specimens, and making small collections as we go. I make regular stops at local beaches and parks in our vicinity when we are doing our errands. We have had weekly beach days, when we stay for the better part of the day, often with other friends, were it’s possible to see the environment change with the tide, weather, and time of day – we do this in most weathers. I stop so the children can collect leaves or acorns outside our library, take an extra 20 mins or so rather than rushing off again.

Cornwall park adventure kids in tree

Finding the perfect picnic spot

I help them identify animals and plants as they go, and I can see that knowledge is sinking in, and they are making their own connections. I am really happy for them to collect specimens, we have had banana boxes of pine cones outside our back door during one particularly obsessive period…. who knew there were so many different types of trees that produce cones for their seeds? Turns out more that we are all still learning about.

Cornwall park adventure log hose

Examining the shelter made from collected fallen dead branches

I have with me some identification books I’ve picked up, mostly secondhand, over the years, that have been good to have at hand, even if it’s usually me reading them!

Cornwall park adventure books, lunch box containers

We packed a picnic, some containers, and our books

I encourage my children to bring home specimens to look at more closely, small plants that might survive in a pot at home or our garden, what better way to observe a plant over time? And it’s important to look closely at the environment around a small plant or fungi, is in the shade or full sun? Is it growing in a dry or boggy area? These are all mental notes we make along the way, and Luna is confident in removing and repotting plants. Some survive and some don’t, it’s all important learning, Luna wants them to live so she’s motivated to find the best conditions for her plants.

Luna collecting moss

Luna collecting moss on a sundew hunt

I love how these excursions help my children better understand what’s happening seasonally, and develop a deeper knowledge of life cycles that go on around us.

cicadas birds nests

Birds nests over spring and summer with random found eggshells collected and arranged by Luna, kauri tree gum and cicadas collected by Blake

I work hard not to over-commit and plan too many activities or try to fit in too many errands and chores, so we do have the time to slow down, look and listen. I also give Luna and Blake space at home to work on their finds, that might mean making a ‘set up’, pulling them all out, planting up, making presents. I also do my best not to be squeamish with insects I’d rather not get that up close and person with…

Karekare cleaning out the braincase seagull skull

Cleaning out the braincase of a seabird’s skull

Sometimes, drawings are made of the finds, and I see as Luna and Blake grow they’ll be wanting to record their work more.


Various local and exotic echinoderms

We have some rocks and other items we plan to take to our museum to find out more, we think we know, but it is go to know when you need an expert eye. Luna has been enthusiastically curating her own ‘small collection’ which she says she might like to gift to the museum. Sweetness and seriousness in the work she does.

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