Do children change how they value nature when they save salamanders? It definitely seems so.
There is only so much a 10-year-old can do. Like restoring the population of an endangered species and succeeding where civil engineers have previously failed. While having fun.
It is mid-April, the sun is hidden by the clouds, five children and a teacher are wondering in an empty paddling pool under a cold mist. They look like they know what they are doing. There is a plastic red bucket with some water in the centre of the pool and 10 piles of dead leaves at the borders. The children are silent, intent, each pocking the pile of leaves with wooden sticks. Suddenly one screams: “I have found one!”.
We are in the green suburb of Stockholm and under the leaves lie brown salamanders listed in the IUCN Red List of endangered species. Since the 1990s, these salamanders have fallen in the pool, dried, and died in the attempt to move from to their reproduction place after hibernation. This is a problem for the municipality and the local civil engineers have decided to build a barrier to impede salamanders to fall into the pool. Without success. It was the time for children to have go.
Today, every year from April to May, a small group of children guided by a teacher scans the pool for salamanders, puts them in a bucket, and bring them to the pond. They all giggle, they are excited, they feel important much like the work they have just done. Over 10 years, these children have saved more than 5000 salamanders, enough to repopulate many local ponds. Problem solved! But what happens to the children?
This is not only an ecological success, but also a beautiful story! This is not a 'school' activity that is supposedly trying to teach them something, but it is an authentic conservation project. And children notice it. They are engaged, they know that their actions matter for the lives of these salamanders. They listen, they focus, they save the life of an animal. And the emotions and thoughts about nature that they experience is something that stays with them for a long time. "First I felt, well... how can I explain? ‘Yeah it’s exciting but they are...like...just salamanders’. But now I feel more like, they are alive, they exist. Before I didn’t think ‘I wonder where they are.’ [...] I care more about them." The only issue has become that they like them so much that they want to bring them home as pet animals.
Through this project we also investigated which relationships are involved in shaping children's desire to protect nature. The more children consider 'nature' as 'home', the higher is their desire to protect nature. However, the more they consider 'city' as 'home', the less is their desire to protect nature. This is a hint that how much 'nature' children can find in their everyday habitat matters greatly for how they will value nature in the future.
In the media
(In Swedish) "Därför behövs grönområden på förskolan"
(In Swedish) "Barn som förstår naturen skyddar den"
(In Swedish ) "Barn som känner kontakt med naturen vill skydda den"
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