"Welcome Ants!" -so reads the note scrawled in chalk on our neighborhood sidewalk.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of watching a herd of several children create "protection zones" around a few anthills that have sprung up in the cracks in the sidewalk. The children were so excited to see the activity of ants that they created stick barriers and barricades around the anthills to protect them from any wayward walkers or bikers.
I believe in nurturing and supporting children's connections to animals whenever possible. To me, most of the time, that means getting out of the way. I didn't interfere with what they were doing, didn't tell them how or what or why to do anything, and certainly didn't pooh-pooh the idea. How tempting it can be for adults to direct what children are doing, to mock or dismiss simple acts such as these, or to try to make it "educational" by teaching them something about insects. None of that was necessary. These kids were responding to a shared excitement and enthusiasm about ants, a shared joy that spring is finally here, and a shared desire to care for other living things. I didn't need to do anything to "help them"
Instead, I just watched. And what I saw!
The kids, ranging in age from 3 to 9, squashed grapes and carefully laid them near the anthills.
They covered the anthills with leaves to "protect them"
They held out flat pieces of mulch or leaves, let the ants crawl onto them, and gently placed the ants within the barricaded areas around the anthills.
They even got out a wheelbarrow -a wheelbarrow!- and used it to transport ants from one end of the sidewalk to another.
Children really do rise to the occasion when given the chance to respond to other living things with care and concern. They seem to have a universal love for animals, and an excitement about interacting with animals in whatever form that takes. Nurturing connections between children and animals can take many forms, anything from just asking a child questions to learn more about what he thinks of certain animals, to providing them with the tools necessary to care for an animal (such as a brush, leash, or water dish in need of filling). Certainly, it can even mean sharing in their joy and excitement when they welcome a new colony of ants to the neighborhood.