Connecting to nature through the world of frogs

There are many ways parents, teachers and our community can create opportunities for children to connect with nature. Just getting outdoors and enjoying free play time is a fantastic way to start. To extend that connection with nature, I have created nature education programs that allow me to share my passion, experience and knowledge in natural history and zoology with children and their families. One of my favourite nature connection programs it to introduce the fascinating world of frogs. Frogs are a much-loved, treasured group of animals; but more so, they offer a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the natural world and conservation, including our role as allies to nature in the current, fast-paced modern world.

I regularly hear people tell me they don’t hear as many frogs as they used to and the stories of collecting tadpoles are fading into “something we did as a kid”. Unfortunately, this is a global trend. World-wide, frog numbers have declined at an alarming rate, over 160 species believed to be extinct and 43% of all species currently known to science are threatened with extinction.

Disheartening, right? Well, only if you let it be.

Rather than spreading messages of doom and gloom – we can embrace the opportunities this presents to help connect children, their families and the wider community with nature and take ownership of our role as custodians of earth and all its creatures. My aim is to create awareness within the community about the fascinating life of frogs and their importance to the intricate web of life on earth. There are so many ways to explore the life of frogs from art, literature, biology and natural history to conservation and taking action for the environment.

Frogs are fascinating

Frogs have always been a part of our stories we share with children, such as ‘The Frog Prince’, and ‘Tiddalick, the Frog Who Wouldn’t Laugh’ and many others. Sharing stories with children is a wonderful way to introduce the topic of frogs. Stories and images can help children learn and appreciate their diverse beauty, colours, shapes and quirky habits.

Delve deeper into frogs and you find myth busters and unusual facts. No, toads do not give you warts! Yes, frogs absorb oxygen and water through their thin, permeable skin – wow! Children are in awe that frogs literally breathe through their skin. This understanding opens a gateway to explain to children that any pollutants in the water or land will penetrate frogs’ skin and have detrimental impacts to their health and survival. So, making sure we pick up our rubbish is an important thing to do for frogs and other wildlife.

The frog life cycle is one that has been studied in schools for many years and remains an important part of children’s understanding of the biological world and how living things grow, change over time and have offspring similar to themselves. Observing the amazing process of tadpole metamorphosis is an ideal activity to share with children. Frogs like to mix things up a bit too, keeping us on our toes. There are many ways in which frogs lay their eggs, how those eggs develop and the level or care from the parents. Some species of frog don’t require water to lay eggs, all the development occurs within the egg capsule, and out leap small, but fully formed frogs. Other species play the numbers game and can lay thousands of eggs and ‘hope for the best’. There are some species that lay only 10-20 eggs, but the males will sit on the eggs, guarding them from predators and keeping them moist until they hatch – the frog version of a ‘stay at home dad’.

One fascinating species, the Southern Gastric-brooding Frog from Queensland, swallows her fertilised eggs and metamorphosis is completed within her stomach! She then spits out baby froglets. This is a completely unique way of caring for young and not known in any other frog species. Children often find this almost unbelievable and maybe a little bit gross, but they never forget it. Children are always sad to learn that this unique species, endemic to Australia, has been presumed extinct since the 1980’s.

Hear and see frogs in action

One of the greatest activities and experiences you can offer children to really engage with nature and frogs, is to take them outside. Grow that spark of interest you have started to cultivate and visit wetland habitats, creeks, rivers, and local ponds. Because frogs are master camouflage artists and hide away during the day, it is best to listen. Encourage children to listen to the different calls of frogs. How many different calls can they hear? Remembering that each species has a unique call and only male frogs call to advertise themselves to prospective partners or to defend their territory. Listening to frogs at night is best, given most species are nocturnal. Listening and being still is a wonderful way for children to slow down, be mindful, observe and be present in the moment.

Create a frog pond

If an action-based activity is something you would like to explore, then creating habitat for frogs in our backyards is a pleasing, fun, tangible and meaningful action to do. The more habitat we create today, the more likely our children and grandchildren will also be able to experience and enjoy the wonders of frogs.

There is a myriad of resources on line to help navigate the process of creating frog-friendly gardens, so get researching. It is important to ensure children are part of the decision-making process for such a project. Below a list of actions children can do to help create frog-friendly gardens:

  • Children can help make the decision to create a pond and frog-friendly garden and where this could be located in your backyard (this could also include ideas for ponds in their kindergarten or school if you don’t have a backyard);
  • Children can help choose the type and shape of the pond, the plants, rocks and logs (for shelter);
  • Digging out the pond area is a great thing to do with children, what child doesn’t love digging in the dirt?;
  • Positioning, digging and planting the plants, learning to handle them with care and placing them gently into the ground;
  • Watering in the plants and providing mulch (if required);
  • Placing logs and rocks around the pond and garden encouraging children to think about how frogs find shelter underneath during the day and winter period;
  • Monitoring the pond for the arrival of frogs, using their listening skills and looking after the health of the pond.

Be involved in follow up monitoring

Children and their families can also get involved with their local ‘frogwatch’ program, where community members record the calls of frogs from their local waterways and send these into organisations that monitor the health of waterways and frog populations. Frogs are used as indicators of environmental health and the data collected from these citizen science programs are invaluable to determine waterway health, frog distributions and abundances. There are also many smart phone apps associated with these programs which offer a great opportunity to use technology with a positive outcome for frogs and the environment.

Frogs are a classic symbol of biodiversity and if protected and conserved can have only positive flow on effects to other forms of life, including our own. We as parents, teachers and educators need to model our behaviour, share our excitement, love, appreciation and respect for the natural world, so that these values can be instilled in our children. Only then can we expect them to have the desire to want to help ‘save the frogs’.

Christina Renowden is the creator of Leap into Nature. A full time mum and ecologist/zoologist who has a passion for connecting children with nature.  She created Leap into Nature to increase children’s ecological literacy and develop meaningful learning experiences in outdoor settings – providing fun, interactive outdoor programs for community groups, kindergartens and primary schools.

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