“I have three small children,” a reader wrote us regarding a bullsnake on their land, “and I’m worried about telling them there is a very large snake on the property.” This reader feared her children would be frightened if they knew how large the snake was and how close to their play it explored.
We understood her concern for her children, but felt this might be an excellent learning opportunity. “I’d recommend telling your kids that there’s a pretty snake that is one of their neighbors and they would be lucky to see it,” Chuck wrote back. “Now is the time to teach children that they share the area with a wide variety of wildlife.”
It’s also the time to teach children to be on the alert. Even if that large bullsnake were removed from the property, another would likely take its place, assuming a good food supply remains. But snakes are not the only wildlife that can pose a “threat.” Perhaps a porcupine explores the area. Perhaps a rabid raccoon inhabits the property. Perhaps bears or cougars roam, depending on the habitat. Even neighbors’ dogs can be dangerous if they are aggressive.
Not all threatening wildlife is large, however. Mosquitoes, ticks, and stinging insects can present problems of their own. Rodents, of course, can carry diseases, some of which can be fatal. Other hazards to consider are rusty barbed wire, loose rocks on hillsides that can cause a tumble, thunderstorms and other wild weather, falling tree branches, poison ivy………….
Don’t Fear Nature
Children need to play outdoors. Because we can’t – and shouldn’t – protect our kids from everything, they need to learn to respect nature and its elements as part of their education. As they absorb their surroundings and appreciate the role each element performs, they also learn that they are a part of nature, how to cope with it, and that they need not fear it.
The most frequent question we are asked when preparing school children for field trips is, “What happens if I get attacked by an animal?” Because many children spend less time outdoors than previous generations, they visualize animals lurking and waiting to strike around every corner. Experience has not taught them that many animals generally hide from people or at least attempt an escape if confronted.
Parents are correct to want to shelter their children from harm. But encountering a bullsnake or any other form of hazard while playing would likely frighten a child more if they weren’t expecting it than if they had been prepared with information and directions on how to handle it in advance. Education and enlightenment are keys to dispelling fears.
“They can easily be taught to either fear or admire (from a safe distance) any type of animal,” Chuck responded to our reader. Words of wisdom such as “Watch where you put your hands and feet” and “Never reach into an area you can’t see” can help them understand tactics to avoid confrontations or injury.
Children will encounter predicaments and risks as they play outside. Preparation helps them cope.