By Belinda Martin
A post on social media about the possibility of spiders and seeds being found in pine cones collected for craft got me revved up about our role to advocate for nature from our position in ECEC.
Fun fact: There have been no deaths in Australia from a confirmed spider bite since 1979.
According to the Australian Museum, an effective antivenom for redback spiders was introduced in 1956, and one for funnel-web spiders in 1980. These are the only two spiders that have caused deaths in Australia in the past. The chance of finding a deadly spider in a pine cone is incredibly slim.
We are uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of children's learning as they explore and discover important concepts such as individual and community environmental responsibility. In order to move beyond the tokenistic worm farms that starve soon after A&R visits or laminated displays spouting commitment to sustainability that gather dust, we need to discuss the dirty, nitty gritty of what true hoslitic sustainability is.
We know from the EYLF that we need to introduce nature through the environment we offer and our intentional teaching programs. Sadly, a very common interpretation of this is to fill services with plastic vines, plants and placemats that are coordinated with flat pack furniture that will end up in landfill only to be replaced by more disposable crap.
How about replacing the plastic vines and flat pack furniture with real plants and upcycled furniture that's crafted to last?
Teach children about dangerous spiders such as funnel webs, mouse spiders and red backs and share how an adult will safely relocate them if one is ever found. If collecting natural items such as pine cones, sticks and leaves, encourage children to investigate them and look for bugs and spiders — after all, these items are their homes. Who is nesting inside? We can be curious and respectful of them at the same time. There's no need to poke or prod them, but it's fun to watch how they move and crawl about.
Australian Geographic shares the following tips for removing spiders from inside:
- If you see a spider, and feel confident it will not harm you, carefully cover it with a container like a glass jar, slide a piece of paper under it, and take it outside to enjoy some fresh air. You could try using gardening gloves or other thick gloves as a precaution. If it’s in a tight spot, like a windowsill, wait until it comes out and then catch it.
- If the spider is dangerous, or you aren’t confident with identifying it, or are terrified of spiders, then call pest control, the Australian Reptile Park (02 4340 1022; firstname.lastname@example.org), or the Poisons Information Hotline (13 11 26 ).
- If you are confident with catching a dangerous spider, put it in a sealed container with breathing holes, and drop it off to somewhere that milks venom, like the Australian Reptile Park.
Share with children that very few of the 10,000 spiders found in Australia are venomous or harmful. Inspire respect by teaching children about some of Australia's spiders and their role in nature. We do this in our service by uploading pictures and videos of any spiders we find and together we form a spider group to identify them (we have a section in our risk assessment that covers these activities).
The Australian Museum has a huge range of fact sheets on spiders and a beautiful image gallery full of our colourful, 8-legged friends.
Australian Museum spider fact sheets
Here's a fun activity to try: Make a bug hotel using a shoe box, pine cones, leaves and sticks and see who comes to visit!
If I had a little spider come out of a pine cone I would be so excited to find out what it was and safely relocate it in the garden. If I can inspire this same feeling and passion in children I will feel like I have done my job.
Real environmental sustainability is embedded, not bought at a cheap department store or represented by laminated displays and pictures. Please everybody, learn to love nature yourself before you can try to impart that love to children
What CELA says: Embedding a love of nature is vital for our environmental future
Belinda's reflection comes at a time when many are concerned about the effects of biophobia on our environmental future.
Researchers have reported that the less children are exposed to natural elements such as wild insects and animals, the more biophobic they become. A recent study in Japan¹ surveyed more than 5,300 school children, examining their perception of local invertebrates (14 insect species and one spider). Most of the students saw the species as things to dislike, fear or go ‘ewww’ to, or even as sources of danger. The less experience the students had with nature, the more negative their feelings. The researchers hypothesised that 'The extinction of experience’ – the loss of direct interactions between people and nature – has the potential to increase negative attitudes towards nature.
For children’s natural inclination of biophilia to develop and for children to become stewards of the earth, they must be given developmentally appropriate opportunities to learn about the natural world based on sound principles of child development and learning, says Randy White CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. This includes developmentally appropriate contact with nature in their early years so they can bond with the natural world, learn to love it and feel comfortable in it.
Increased interaction with nature, including ‘urban greenery’ can also have great benefits for adults. Studies have shown that it can improve our mood, reduce feelings of stress, improve physical health and make you feel more relaxed.
Find out more about the benefits of year round outdoor learning in our recent Amplify article.