There were barely any clouds in the bright blue sky and the summer sun was shining down through the trees. You could hear the tall grass moving slowly in the wind and their small footsteps along the narrow trail. It was the perfect day for a High Park bug hunt! As an excited camp group walked down the trail, nets in hand, they reached the base of a giant oak tree with branches that looked like they could go on forever. The oak leaves were full of tiny holes and as they looked up at them, they started to see not one, not two, but hundreds of little caterpillars munching away at the leaves. Some kids immediately picked them up and started played with them. Even the most hesitant children warmed up to the idea by carefully watching the others hold these harmless little creatures with ease. The bug hunt could not have started in a better way!
For many children that live in Toronto, it can be hard for them to form a connection with nature, especially with bugs. This is not surprising since they are mostly surrounded by condos, skyscrapers, and pavement while having little to no access to a backyard. For these children, urban green spaces, like High Park, can be the backyards they never knew they had!
“With insects, there are so many of them and the details to look for are so small that you easily get that feeling of being an explorer and not knowing what you’re going to find.” These are words of Jon Hayes, the Programs Director at the High Park Nature Centre. For the last 11 years, Jon has taught and been involved with numerous programs which help children form and deepen their connections with bugs and other aspects of nature. To help children get a sense of the excitement that comes with studying the insects that live right under their noses, he believes that it all starts with experience. This means going out there and looking for insects, or even looking for signs of insects. Jon relates the experience of getting to know backyards bugs with the experience of meeting a new person. “When you meet someone new, knowing the name is the first part of a social interaction and building a relationship. I think it’s the same thing with insects. You start with the name but you don’t stop there. Once you’ve got the name, you can start to understand more about it and its life history, and its role in the environment", he explains. Jon hopes that people can see High Park as an extension of their backyard but also that the responsibility for the park's upkeep and care goes beyond serving personal needs and that it fits into a larger ecology.
A great way to start forming and deepening a child’s connection with bugs, is to get your hands on the “Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America” and to buy couple of little jars from the dollar store to look at things closely. The High Park Nature Centre also offers some guided programs related to bugs during the year. You can find about these events and programs on our website and social media.
So next time you're exploring an urban green space look for that bright blue sky and that summer sun. Be the one to lead those little footsteps along that narrow trail through the tall grass all the way to those little creatures who live right under our noses. You can help create an everlasting memory for a child in the backyard they didn’t know they had!