The significance of animals in social development of children and consequently children’s ability and sensibility towards caring for them has been recently receiving a lot of attention from academic research.
If you carefully look at how children build a relationship, the act of touching seems to be especially powerful. From the birth, sense of touch is one of the human’s strongest senses to understand others and the environment. They use it to not only better understand the others, but also to understand their self in relation to others. Who are they in relation to the animate (an inanimate) environment? How can they accommodate these social others? What to expect from them? How to approach them so they don’t run away? How to make them do something/act? How to hold them? How to feed them?
They often initiate a touch, then adjust their move based on the emotional reactions from the animate environment. For children, nature has a living, subjective, individual and inner aspect. Think about how they talk to rocks, or are worried that trees might feel cold in winter, or command bees to leave them alone!
Although I’m often questioning an anthropocentric approach to examine our relationship with nature, it’s hard to deny the deep interconnectedness between nature and human at many different levels. On one hand, starting at very young age, we are strongly curious about them (which can then make nature the subject of our inquiries, sometimes extremely and negatively human-centred). On the other hand, nature is depending on human’s choices, moves, desire, and needs as well. Nature is also ‘studying’ us (in its own way) to better accommodate humans, to adjust to the changes that we have caused or accelerated, to protect itself against our destructive moves, or to embrace our cares and feeding hands.
So, I think, we need to celebrate and encourage children’s desires to know nature, but help them to define who they are in relation to the nature, and find ‘natural’ ways to build a relationship with nature as their social partner.