Educational Ranger Steve Norris shares his top tips for helping children have confidence around animals
1. Talk about animals together
“Talking to your child about animals can reassure them that there’s nothing to be afraid of,” says Steve. “You could chat about what the animal looks like, what it likes to eat, where it sleeps or how it likes to be touched.” All of this will help prepare your child and make them feel more confident when they come across the real thing.
2. Be a nature detective
You can boost your child’s confidence going on a wildlife hunt. “We run various nature activities through the week for children of all ages,” says Steve. “We look out for all sorts of birds, bugs and larger animals like deer too.”
During sessions, such as Family Nature Journal, Nature Detectives and Creepy Crawlies, Steve shows children how to look out for animal tracks and signs in nature. “You might spot deer footprints, find out that squirrels eat pine cones in a certain way, or discover a badger’s toilet,” he says. “The children love it.”
3. Get hands-on
It can be daunting to get up close and personal with animals – but being able to touch, smell and hold an animal helps to boost your child’s confidence and gives them a sense of achievement.
Steve says he shows children grass snakes and newts, and encourages them to pick up animals like frogs and toads, big insects and beetles, and even slow worms. “They learn how to handle these animals gently and confidently, and how to release them safely back into the wild without causing distress,” he says.
“Many of the children have never seen a slow worm before, and it’s a joy to see their faces after they’ve held one. Parents will tell me that they have not stopped talking about it.”
4. Take your memories with you
Keeping a nature diary is a great way to make sure you don’t forget all the wonderful wildlife you’ve discovered on your family adventures.
During the Family Nature Journal sessions at Center Parcs, you have the chance to collect feathers, flowers and lots more to stick into your very own quality journal. You could make drawings, take photos and write notes about your wildlife discoveries in your diary too.
5. Invite new animals home
Building your child’s confidence with animals doesn’t have to stop when you leave Center Parcs. Perhaps you can conquer your own fears too by inviting a snake to live in your garden?
“You might not think you’ve got snakes where you live, but put a piece of tin down,” says Steve. “A few days later, look under it with the children. There’s a good chance there will be a snake or a slow worm underneath.”
If you’d rather see something less slithery, why not make a bird box to fix to your wall or fence? At the Build a Nature House sessions, you’ll learn how to make a home for blue tits, robins, bats or insects.
Activities with animals at Center Parcs
Get closer to animals with a Junior Pony Ride or Festive Pony Ride, available at Sherwood Forest, Elveden Forest, Longleat Forest and Longford Forest. Or discover more about nature on a Build a Nature House, Family Nature Journal, Nature Detectives, Creepy Crawlies or Falconry.