Collecting Bugs Could Be Key To Raising Conservationists

There’s a few things kids can do to influence how adults view biodiversity, according to a new study.

If you want city kids to care about the environment, have them collect it. According to a new report from researchers at Tokyo Metropolitan University, childhood experience with nature is the most important factor in predicting whether children will grow up to appreciate it. And the most impactful kind of childhood experience is active engagement with plants and animals.

Researchers Tetsuro Hosaka, Koun Sugimoto, and Shinya Numata surveyed 1,030 adult residents in Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures. The survey recorded the frequency of respondents’ participation in different nature-related activities before age 12, and then asked about their feelings and familiarity towards different animals as well as their willingness to live near such animals. The results showed that having experiences with nature in childhood influenced how much people liked and were inclined to coexist with animals. The survey does not, however, probe what concrete actions these individuals would be willing to take to protect nature and animals.

It may seem only natural that kids who grow up experiencing the environment have more of an interest in it when they get older. But the report also found that certain kinds of play are more useful than others when it comes to helping children appreciate biodiversity. Plant and insect collecting both had a greater effect on participants’ likeability towards animals than more unstructured activities such as tree climbing or swimming in rivers. “Since collecting requires knowledge and skills for searching, collecting, handling and identifying items,” the report states, “it would effectively promote children’s understanding and affective attitudes towards living organisms in the natural world.”

That can be a tough ask, especially since most national parks forbid visitors from taking or altering the natural flora and fauna of a site. But there are ways to (legally) get around such barriers. Lila Higgins, the Citizen Science Manager at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, recalls leading groups to photograph insects and plants, a digital update to traditional insect and plant collecting that a national park would not object to. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a Discovery Garden with dedicated space for visitors to smell and (gently) touch. Children have noted on the garden’s surveys that after their…

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