It’s June, and the world around us is alive with the sights and sounds of baby animals. It’s a delightful time to introduce children to these wonders of nature.
The spring and summer seasons sing with birds, hatchlings chirping in their nests, awaiting food from attentive parents.
Across a lake, a mother or father swan warms eggs with its body, awaiting cygnets with infinite patience.
The seasons are alive with new life, plants shooting up in forests, fields and meadows, animals giving birth in sheltered places away from predators.
In the forest, bears move out of their dens, cubs following mama in search of food.
In farmers’ fields, calves walk, wobbly legged, beside mother cows. Lambs appear with tightly curled wool, sticking close to mama ewes.
Photos of a mother duck and her ducklings waddling across a busy highway pop up on the Internet. A television news station shows three bear cubs strolling along a suburban fence, well away from forested areas, foraging for food, mama bear not far behind.
Kids pay rapt attention to this, glued to television sets, iPad screens and the pages of books, asking questions, probing for information about baby animals and the circle of life.
Along hiking trails, backyard pathways, even outdoor shopping center walkways, children pause, stoop and marvel at a squiggling caterpillar, a dashing juvenile squirrel, a scampering raccoon cub trying to keep up with its mother, called a sow.
In urban wooded areas, along home-dense streets in some communities and in semirural enclaves, it’s not unusual to glimpse a spotted fawn leaping into brush behind its mother, called a doe.
For human parents, the learning opportunities are great, and sharing stories of baby animals is a wonderful way to spend time with your children. Picture books and animal-related stories tap into younger children’s fascination and hold their attention as they learn identification and reading skills. Older kids are entranced, too.
The promise of spotting a young animal in its natural habitat entices kids outdoors, where the temperate Northwest climate and long days allow for backyard exploration, nature trail hikes and other animal gazing. And children are fascinated not only by the animals but with their names.
Savvy parents will brush up on this information, so they can answer the questions such as: “What is a baby duck called?” “Why is a baby fox called a kit?” “What’s the difference between a fawn and a foal?” “Why is a bison calf orange when its mother is brown?”
It’s not all child’s play.
Researchers at Rutgers University and the University of Virginia found that children’s interest in animals appears early in life, even before the age of 1.
The attraction occurs even for animals — such as snakes and spiders — that might give some adults the willies, the researchers concluded.
Even when given interesting playthings, children as young as 11 months “gestured more towards animals, talked about the animals more and asked (caregivers) more questions about the animals than about the toys,” according to a news release from the British Psychological Society.
That preference “may explain why so many young children are so excited to encounter animals when they’re out in the world and why so many children develop rich and lasting relationships with their pets,” according to a report about the research on the University of Virginia Child Study website.
Parents were kids once, too, of course. So they intuitively know that children and animals go together like ice cream and cones on a hot summer’s day.
All the more reason to get out and take the human clan to see the newest in the animal family. SEE THE YOUNG ONES
• It’s baby animal season at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Eatonville. Bison calves and bighorn sheep lambs stick close to their mamas in meadows, fields and hillsides of the 425-acre free-roaming area. Two 1-year-old moose calves wander the pathways. Fawns and cygnets, or baby swans, could appear soon. nwtrek.org.
• At Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, a 6-week-old tiger cub, Kali, is growing fast, getting stronger each day. Visitors can see her feedings and watch zookeepers tend to and play with her at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Two bigger tiger cubs, Sumatran tiger Dumai and Mayalan tiger Berani, are now nearly 10 months old and weigh more than 100 pounds each. Harbor seal pups have begun to arrive. Meerkat kits are growing fast in the Kids’ Zone area of the zoo. pdza.org.
• At Tacoma Nature Center, it’s fun to hunt for mallard ducklings and young Pacific tree frogs, though they are not always visible.
HELPING KIDS LEARN ABOUT ANIMALS
A Pierce County Library System theme packet on baby animals, posted on the library’s website, offers these parent-child learning tips:
• Take baby animal names and use them to make rhyming words. Even if they are nonsense words, the important thing is to have fun rhyming. The sillier, the better.
• Sit quietly outside and listen for animal sounds: birds, dogs barking, etc. Write down all the sounds that you hear.
• Ask your child to draw a picture of their favorite baby animal. Ask them to tell you why it is their favorite and write down what your child says. Hang up the drawing with the dictation. Hanging up special drawings is a way to communicate to your child that their creations are important.
TO LEARN MORE
Here are sources for information, photographs and drawings of baby animals. Some are commercial websites but have free materials.
leapfrog.com/en/leapfrog_parents/ toddler/learning_for_life/baby-animal- coloring-pages.html