“Late one afternoon, down in the ground, Hairy-Nose Wombat woke up with a frown.” The first sentence of the children’s book Hairy nose, itchy butt by Elizabeth Frankel and Garry Duncan light-heartedly addresses a serious problem, the struggles of the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat. Sadly, the largest of the three wombat species is only one of 88 animal species that are critically endangered in Australia.
These sobering facts can make us feel powerless. They certainly have this effect on me. I frequently catch myself thinking, “What can I do to change this?” The issues seem to be too big and too ubiquitous to tackle by a few individuals, right?
The good news is, there is plenty we can do. Most importantly, we can enhance our children’s love and willingness to care for local wildlife and there is plenty you can do in your centre’s backyard.
Cultivate your own wildlife-friendly garden and get your children involved in every step of the way. Together, find out which plants are native to your local area and which ones are most loved by native wildlife.
A wonderful source of knowledge is your local Indigenous community. Perhaps you could speak to Indigenous families in your centre or a local Indigenous Elder? Alternatively, you could contact your local land council, for instance, in NSW.
Food and water
The Australian climate can be a challenge for some species, particularly in areas affected by drought. The children can help the local animal community by providing water. Together with the children, you can build bird baths and put out smaller vessels such as bottle lids for thirsty insects.
Children love to collect shells, twigs and rocks. Fair enough, they are nice to look at and interesting to experiment with, but we can never be sure who has already claimed them. Tell the children that these ‘souvenirs’ might be someone’s home and that it is better not to remove things from the environment. The children might also enjoy building an insect hotel to provide a home for crawling and flying folk.
Observe your visitors
The more children know about their crawling, jumping, flying and swimming neighbours, the better they can help protect them. Set up camp inside or in a dedicated spot in the yard for animal observations. The children might want to spend a few minutes every morning observing movement outside. Over time, they will recognise patterns and routines of their favourite species. They might even see the same animals every day.
Encourage your children to always dispose of their rubbish and to remind the people around them to do the same. A bird might mistake a piece of plastic for food and feed it to their chicks. The same applies to food scraps. Food humans enjoy might be unhealthy for animals.
For more ideas on how to integrate nature play and the environment into your practice, join our online events in November 2023: STEM Hour expert discussion: Bush Kinder and Inspire STEM workshop: Evolution of Australian Animals.