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Author: Kids Need Abundant Connection With Nature


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Scott Sampson has a big fancy title. He's the vice president of research and collections at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. But to a whole lot of American kids, he's this guy...


DR. SCOTT SAMPSON: Hi, I'm Dr. Scott, the paleontologist. And this is a tyrannosaurus rex.

MARTIN: Sampson is the host and science advisor for the PBS Kids TV show "Dinosaur Train" which is all about trying to get kids interested in the natural world around them.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) We're going to ride the dinosaur train.

MARTIN: Scott Sampson has made a career helping kids and parents connect with nature. To that end, he's written a book. It's called "How To Raise a Wild Child: The Art And Science Of Falling In Love With Nature." Scott Sampson joins us now. Welcome to the show.

SAMPSON: Thank you very much, Rachel.

MARTIN: I'm going to put you on the spot. What's your favorite dinosaur and why?

SAMPSON: When I was a kid, it was Stegosaurus, the one with all the plates and spikes. Now, without question, it is Kosmoceratops, a horned dinosaur I had the pleasure of naming - Triceratops, three horns on its head, Kosmoceratops, 15 horns, blows it away.

MARTIN: Amazing, and I love that that answer was just right on the tip of your tongue. Clearly it is a question you have been asked before. This career started for you when you made kind of a leap of faith - right? - leaving academia, going into the world of science education. What compelled you to make that change?

SAMPSON: Well, for me, personally, I just felt like I couldn't spend the rest of my life studying dinosaurs only and graduating students who were going to be doing this - that for me, I needed to work on the present day and the future. We have about a generation to sort of turn things around, both for us and the natural world. And I wanted to try and use my skills as a science communicator to work on that problem.

MARTIN: So this book is an effort to do that. And what I liked about this book that you make it clear, you don't have to necessarily live near the Olympic Rain Forest or Muir Woods or some kind of other amazing natural setting. Almost any patch of dirt will do, right? How do you make the most of limited space or nature?

SAMPSON: Yeah. One of the problems today is that kids don't have their sensory skills developed. We can walk outside and not hear the birds or smell the flowers or feel the air. And so the initial challenge is just to start noticing nature. Get kids taking pictures of it if they need to use technology. But just start to engage with it, become aware of it and at that point, you are actually doing nature connection for your kids.

MARTIN: You also talk about the importance of storytelling as kind of a strategy in developing your kid's affinity for nature. Is there a story you relay to your kids, a moment that you connected with nature in a profound way?

SAMPSON: One of them that I have told my daughter that she loves is me being about four or five years old and my mother taking me to this pond. And my mother took us there that day because she had heard that there were tadpoles in the pond. And I was so excited to see these tadpoles. And I walked there. And I looked in the water, couldn't see anything. And it took a moment to realize that all of these gajillions of little squirming blobs were animals. And I stepped into the pond, grabbed a handful of these things and stepped out further and flooded one boot and then another boot. And my mother basically took a deep breath and let me walk out. And I walked until the water was over my waist just feeling like I was completely part of that pond. There was no separation between me and it. And that stuck with me to the present day.

MARTIN: We talked about the fact that you don't need to live near a huge natural reserve or park. Let's say you live in an apartment and maybe the closest nature you have is the potted plant. Let's say maybe you have a pet cat. So then what do you do, Dr. Scott? Those are your ingredients. How do you make your kid engage with nature?

SAMPSON: Well, there's amazing technologies these days where people can create vertical walls of plants in apartments. And there's all these activities you can do if kids want to do science where your average five-year-old kid can start observing things in the natural world, whether it's the timing of plants that are bursting with their buds or the arrival of birds. So there's all kinds of innovative ways to engage kids in nature, even if you are looking out the window of an apartment.

MARTIN: Scott Sampson - he is a paleontologist. He is also the host of the PBS show "Dinosaur Train," and the author of "How To Raise A Wild Child." Thanks so much for talking with us, Scott.

SAMPSON: Rachel, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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