A co-worker once told me a story about three children in his neighborhood playing with a venomous coral snake in a garage. The children were unsupervised, and were picking up the snake and shaking it. One child was poking it with a stick.
My co-worker immediately ran over to them, yelling at them to drop it. They did and it quickly slithered away. It was a miracle that none of the children had been bitten. He immediately went to one of the children’s mother’s houses. She was shocked and horrified—she had never seen a snake, not even a harmless black snake, in the area. This story got me thinking: do our early learners know what to do when they encounter unlikely instances of nature? See below for four elements of nature that your early learner might encounter and what they should do in each situation.
Make sure your early learner knows that they shouldn’t be afraid of snakes, but they should be cautious of them. Tell your early learner why some snakes are dangerous and some are not. Since it’s hard to tell right away if snakes are venomous, it’s best for everyone to treat every snake as venomous—even if someone knows the sighted snake is not!
When going into the woods or fields where snakes may live, make sure your early learner is wearing proper, closed-toe footwear. Encourage your early learner to stomp while walking so that any snake might know they are coming and hide. Assure your early learner that snakes are more afraid of people than people should be afraid of them.
If your yard is in an area with frequent snake sightings, be sure to put away all toys when finished playing (especially those that critters can hide under!), keep the lawn groomed, and always do a onceover before your early learner goes outside to play.
Finally, make sure that your early learner knows that the only steps to take when encountering a snake in the wild are staying still until the snake moves away, not making any sudden movements, and backing away once the snake moves away. (http://mothernatured.com/2012/10/23/teach-your-child-to-be-snake-safe/)
2. Wasps and other stinging insects
If a wasp or a bee lands on your early learner, make sure they know to stay completely still. Make sure they know not to brush the insect off with their hands or try to run from it. Generally, the stinging insect will leave of its own accord when it realizes the person it landed on is not a flower. If you are present, to remove the insect use a piece of paper or other object to brush it off the child. Do not use your hands.
Another situation with stinging insects to prepare your early learner for is if the wasp or bee is in an enclosed room. Tell your early learner in this case to slowly back away (not run) and leave the room to find an adult. (http://www.waspsite.info/)
3. Fire ants
Just as with snakes, if you live in an area with a high fire ant population, make sure that your early learner is wearing proper, closed-toe footwear for outdoor play. Be sure that early learners know how to identify those telltale fire ant mounds and also to avoid them. If your early learner enjoys crushing things outdoors, be sure to have multiple conversations about the dangers of stepping on ant mounds. (http://doyourownpestcontrol.com/pest_control/questions_and_answers/top_10_things_you_should_know_about_fire_ants.html)
4. Poison ivy and poison oak
Is your early learner interested in plant identification? Probably not! While we know that poison ivy is a plant with three leaves, and poison oak is found on vines, a general rule of thumb is to restrict early learners’ play to cleared areas. Be sure your early learner knows not to touch unidentified plants. If they do display an interest in plants, it is a great opportunity to create an outdoor learning experience by working together to identify plants. (http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-Poison-Ivy)