Build­ing a con­nec­tion with Mother Na­ture

Chi­nese kids to­day are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in the nat­u­ral world, thanks to the ef­forts of par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors who be­lieve such ex­po­sure is nec­es­sary for a holis­tic learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing their grow­ing up years

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By YU RAN in Shang­hai yu­ran@chi­

Climb­ing up the tree, ly­ing on the grass to ob­serve a but­ter­fly emerge from its chrysalis and jump­ing along the ridges of farm­lands are the most ex­cit­ing child­hood mem­o­ries Wu Jin­hai are try­ing to pass on to his son.

To get closer to na­ture, Wu even moved from an apart­ment in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang province to run a guest­house in Liangzhu New Town, a scenic spot in the coun­try­side 16 kilo­me­ters from the city.

“I have al­ways wanted to give my son a child­hood full of free­dom and ex­cite­ment, which can be ob­tained by pur­su­ing out­door ac­tiv­i­ties up in the hills, forests and along the streams,” said Wu, who is also an in­sect en­thu­si­ast and a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher.

Ev­ery week­end since Wu’s son Qiqi turned three years old, the fa­ther and son duo would head into the wilder­ness to chase the but­ter­flies hov­er­ing above wild flow­ers.

Wu has since col­lected hun­dreds of but­ter­fly spec­i­mens which are all dis­played at his home. As a re­sult of his up­bring­ing, Qiqi has now left be­hind his shy dis­po­si­tion to be­come an out­go­ing and lively nine-year-old.

“Those trips have helped my son be­come more ob­ser­vant about na­ture, learn about the dif­fer­ent life­forms around us and ex­press his unique un­der­stand­ing of them,” said Wu, who now also works as a part­time teacher of nat­u­ral sci­ence at a pri­mary school.

Ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts say that chil­dren who grow up close to na­ture tend to be more cre­ative and are more proac­tive in self-learn­ing.

Wang Qing­shi, an 11-yearold stu­dent of Bei­jing Shi­jing­shan Yinhe Pri­mary School, flew from the Chi­nese cap­i­tal to Shang­hai to at­tend the fi­nals of the Global Nat­u­ral His­tory Day Com­pe­ti­tion 2016. Here, he show­cased his unique meth­ods of cat­e­go­riz­ing in­sects, win­ning the first prize for his ef­forts at the event.

As a child whose hobby is catch­ing in­sects, Wang started car­ry­ing out re­search on the dif­fer­ent shapes of in­sect feet af­ter a ci­cada’s foot was caught be­tween the threads of his T-shirt about one year ago.

To­gether with a friend, Wang spent most of his leisure time catch­ing hun­dreds of in­sects in Bei­jing, tak­ing photos and doc­u­ment­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween the feet of in­sects. He has now clas­si­fied in­sect feet into four cat­e­gories based on their shapes — dou­ble-hook, sin­gle-hook, stick-shaped and sucker hook.

Wang has even painted the feet of in­sects to cre­ate images, writ­ten jour­nals and cre­ated in­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties to show peo­ple how they can match in­sects with their dif­fer­ent feet.

“I’ve learnt this as­pect of in­sects that can­not be found in the text­books and started think­ing and con­duct­ing re­search in­de­pen­dently to ex­plore the nat­u­ral world with cre­ativ­ity and cu­rios­ity,” said Wang, who has a dream to be­come an en­to­mol­o­gist.

Chen Hongcheng, Wang’s tu­tor and a teacher at Bei­jing Yu­cai School, said that it is im­por­tant and mean­ing­ful that kids to­day pay more at­ten­tion to the world around them.

“Chi­nese par­ents are now mak­ing more ef­forts to ex­pose their chil­dren to na­ture where they can ex­er­cise their cu­rios­ity and imag­i­na­tion, in­stead of be­ing only con­cerned with ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults.”

An­other two par­tic­i­pants in the com­pe­ti­tion, Zhang Yi and Yan Jiyao, shared their re­search re­sults on birds at the com­pe­ti­tion in Shang­hai. The pair of fourth-grade stu­dents at­tend the pri­mary school at­tached to South­west Uni­ver­sity in Chongqing.

“Birds are friends of us hu­man be­ings. I want to ex­plore how we can help them live and pro­lif­er­ate in na­ture with the least dis­tur­bance pos­si­ble,” said Yan, whose in­ter­est in birds de­vel­oped af­ter a trip to a bird park one year ago.

Yan and his class­mate Zhang have since that trip been keenly ob­serv­ing birds and their re­la­tion­ship with the daily lives of hu­mans. The pair even­tu­ally stum­bled upon the re­al­iza­tion that it would be nec­es­sary to cre­ate a bal­anced ecosys­tem for the crea­tures by con­trol­ling the bird pop­u­la­tion and plant­ing more trees for them to live in. The two friends are plan­ning to par­tic­i­pate in the event again next year.

“I’ve widen my knowl­edge of birds, learned how to bet­ter ex­press my thoughts and how to work as a team with those who have a same in­ter­est in birds,” said Zhang of his ex­pe­ri­ence.

Huang Yifeng, a Tai­wanese eco­log­i­cal de­signer, is an­other ad­vo­cate of get­ting kids out of their class­rooms and res­i­den­tial blocks to parks, botan­i­cal gar­dens and zoos to see, touch and feel na­ture. To cham­pion this cause, he founded Na­ture Fun in 2013. The com­pany helps to or­ga­nize out­door ac­tiv­i­ties within Shang­hai for par­ents and chil­dren aged from six to 11.

He said that as more Chi­nese chil­dren are grow­ing up in cities far away from the nat­u­ral world, very few of them are able to name in­sects, flow­ers and tell the dif­fer­ences be­tween veg­eta­bles.

Na­ture Fun’s day trips take place once or twice monthly in parks, botan­i­cal gar­dens and zoos in the city. About 20 fam­i­lies, com­pris­ing one child who is ac­com­pa­nied by a par­ent, par­tic­i­pate in each of the trips that are guided by Huang and his team, pick­ing up leaves, lis­ten­ing to birds chirp and touch­ing the in­sects.

Ev­ery day trip fea­tures a dif­fer­ent theme, rang­ing from in­sects to birds or other an­i­mals. Huang would al­ways give a short in­tro­duc­tory lec­ture re­gard­ing the theme be­fore the group sets off.

“I use sto­ry­telling meth­ods as well as some handmade toys and props to get the chil­dren in­ter­ested in the topic dur­ing the in­door warm-up ses­sion,” said Huang.

Dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days, the length of the ex­plo­rative camps is ex­tended to a week, while the lo­ca­tion is changed from the city to the coun­try­side.

“I am just act­ing as a cat­a­lyst for these lovely chil­dren to turn on their tal­ents and ex­plore the beauty in daily life,” said Huang.


Huang Yifeng, the founder of Na­ture Fun, talks to chil­dren dur­ing a day trip or­ga­nized by his com­pany. Wang Qing­shi shows off his re­search project on the dif­fer­ent types of in­sect feet in Shang­hai.


Wu Jin­hai and his son Qiqi of­ten spend qual­ity time to­gether in the coun­try­side learn­ing about na­ture. The fa­ther said this ex­po­sure to nat­u­ral life has helped his son be­come more out­go­ing.

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