For most modern families living in apartments, townhouses, or even the suburbs, it takes a conscious effort to ensure little ones connect with nature and animals and, as a result, connect with God. Nature is suffused with the Presence of the Creator because God sustains and controls nature.
It seems to me children need to go outside where they can delight in the smallest details because their hearts senses the Spirit of God and His joy when they are in nature. Even adults are growing increasingly discontent with the hectic pace of the 21st century because it is an existence more plugged into technology than to people.
Many are more comfortable texting each other than speaking face to face or even talking on the phone. This disconnect has devastating repercussions, also affecting our relationship to nature, but most especially our relationship with God. Man is losing the ability to even engage in authentic prayer because prayer is all about communion, the ability to relate.
Children are especially vulnerable to the toxic influence of technology. It is so easy to switch on the television or hand a tiny child an iPhone when they are distraught and parents are busy. One of the creators of the television show Sesame Street once said that any activity is better than watching television, even an educational show like Sesame Street. In our home, we went a year without any television when we had seven children. After this, we limited their time in front of the television as well as the computer — not too difficult when kids of all ages are clamoring for their thirty minutes of allotted time.
The Canadian scientist David Suzuki also believes children must be given the opportunity to connect with animals. The inner drive to bond with animals is so strong that, if they haven’t the chance to connect with real animals, children will turn their attention to stuffed or cartoon animals. Suzuki calls these substitutes for real animals a “grotesque” substitution.
While watching my own kids interact with our pets and farm animals, I discovered children do have a deep seated need to relate to animals. I was as fascinated as my kids with the arrival of tiny balls of fluff called chicks, cute piglets and tiny kittens. The whole family gathered around in the barn when the chicks and piglets first arrived, not wanting to miss anything.
In the coming weeks, the smaller children clambered for one of the older ones to take them to see the chicks. Sitting among the little birds with the warming lamp, holding or simply watching them was an almost magical time filled with quiet joy.
Mary was and still is my most fervent animal lover. Before she could even walk, she exhibited an obsession to find, crawl after, grab and squeeze any and all animals. This was a passionate love for animals, I would say. She could barely talk, so to communicate her wish to hold the hamster, her hands would frantically open and close and she would utter soft little grunts as she pleaded, with big chocolate-brown eyes, for someone to open the cage. When Mary realized that she would finally get to hold the hamster, her hand would literally shake with excitement and anticipation.
Needless to say, either one of the older siblings or I had to supervise Mary, because she would tend to squeeze Hammy till his eyes started to bulge out. Then the cry would arise . . . “Mary’s squeezing Hammy again. Come quickly!” Once she could walk, Mary would haul the disgruntled cat around, but she was happy with her eyes shining with joy. Mary was in heaven, so I couldn’t bear to deny her access to her beloved pets.
At least the rabbits in the hutch on the covered porch were more placid than Kitty and tougher than the hamster, and she was content to simply stare at the goldfish. Though she did tend to over feed them. I’d scoop out food from the top of the water to use for the next few feedings. Spring provides the perfect time to build memories like these.
It really takes minimal effort to encourage little ones to connect with nature and animals, and, as a result, with the God who sustains them.