Wildlife watching with children
I have three kids, and they are glued to the telly when Big Cat Diaries, Planet Earth, Springwatch or the programme about Longleat Safari Park are on. However, while they are not complete armchair naturalists, it really needs to be something quite large to grab their attention, preferably when it is eating something even larger, and in a short space of time. Part of the problem, WWT take note here, is that when they have come along to sample the ‘children’s activities’ at various wildlife reserves, they tend to be aimed at 3-6 years olds, ignoring the fact that not all children fit into that category. Pond dipping and climbing frames that look like insects are not going to grab a 12 year old boys attention.
My kids were so excited about the thought of going on safari in Kenya, and we had a great time. A walking safari, 4 days on the Masai Mara seeing pretty much everything, the flamingos and rhinos at Nakuru, everything you want to see. And the abiding memories? Hiding under the seats of the open top landrover while watching lions hunting, (as all they have learned from years as armchair viewers is that lions will eat you.) and the hotel with a swim up bar and free coke!
Is TV the problem? It is so easy to watch Monsieurs Attenborough, Oddie, Scott & Leonard cuddling gorillas, stalking lions and swimming with whales in the space of a 40 minute programme, nothing prepares the viewer for the fact that, when you try it yourself, it takes 3 days to get there, 5 days of getting up before dawn (And how many children believe you when you tell them it will be freezing cold on safari?), and, without an extensive team of researchers and spotters, 6 hours of sitting and waiting before you glimpse the rear end of a leopard failing to catch unseen prey. A few kids can deal with it, and slightly more parents, but rarely the matching ones.
Big set piece events are fine, dolphin/whale watching, for a morning as part of a holiday, a side trip to see some bears while in Canada, but ideally it forms part of a general holiday. And nearer to home is worse (I suspect I am the source of this), on the odd occasion when I can drag myself to the local bird hide, or venture further afield on foot to go deer spotting, I am on my own.
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There are always exceptions, but if you want to enthuse your children with an interest in wildlife, break them in gently, and almost as an aside to a range of other activities. Spend a week in Ireland, and have a morning whale watching; go to South Africa and slip in a few animals amongst the beaches and Table Top mountains (Though it must be said that swimming with Penguins is very high up on children’s list); bribe them to have a walk around the spectacular WWT London wetlands with a promise of a picnic and an ice-cream; take a football with you and play football with the Masaii (avoid volleyball, they are all about 7 foot 6 inches and very, very good); Just don’t force it down their throats, they will be put off for years.