When I was growing up there was this cluttered, eccentric old pet store that my friends and I would go into and browse the odd collections of animals. There was a screaming myna bird, which happily chatted with anyone who entered. There was a large, wire cage with an almost hairless, hunched over, arthritic rat. On the cage was a sign (there were odd signs on most of the cages) that read: Parents who say “ew” have children who say “ew.” In my youth, the sign had struck me as a funny example of the store’s eccentricity.
Now, however, I get the statement. And, it’s not just applicable to parents. When teachers say, “ew,” when society says, “ew,” when cartoons say, “ew”…. I think often about people saying “ew” and “ewwwwww!”
chocolate tube slime
When classes or camps of children come to spend time at Look About Lodge and learn about the natural world around them, the first rule we enforce on them is, “You may not say ew.” They may say, “interesting” or “ohhh!” or even, “I do not want to touch that.” But, they may not say “ew.” When kids say the e-word, their brains seem to turn off. It’s an unconscious way of saying, “I’m not going to learn about that!” When relating to things we discover in nature, that is not an acceptable attitude.
a dead starling with two carion beetles making it "home sweet home"
Dead things can be amazing. Decomposition is an adventure with a full cast of characters: fungi, bacteria, invertebrates and more! Just today, with a group of 4-year olds, I found an owl pellet full of mouse bones. They loved seeing the tiny teeth of the dead mouse.
We encounter so many glorious functions of mucus (and mucusy things) in nature. Amphibians secrete mucus to allow them to breathe through their skin and to deter predators. Black cherry trees exude sap that looks like giant tree boogers. Slug slime is remarkable and turns into super-slime if you try to wash it off with soap and water (hint from a naturalist: wipe it on a dry paper towel or your jeans to remove it from your hands).
slug covered log
Spiders get way more than their fair share of ewws. Spider-aversion is likely an evolutionary response to protect us from a venomous bite. The reality is, most spiders we encounter will be very happy to not deliver anything to us, if we just choose to not disturb them. Leave them alone, and they’ll return the favor and even better, they’ll eat insects. I would urge you to squash the “eww” instead of the spider. Exchange that reaction with curiosity or at least calm, “I’m not going to bother that creature.”
argiope spider wrapping a grasshopper in silk
The entire Outdoor Experiences Division here at Cleveland Metroparks is committed to helping people build a positive relationship with the nature around them. I know most of you would agree that sharing a love of the world with children is the way to raise them into adults who will care for our world responsibly. Let’s all commit to saying “ew” much less. Let’s all swap out disgust for curiosity. Remember that saying, “ew” curtails the brain’s openness to learning something new. You don’t have to touch it. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to put a bumper sticker on your car declaring you’ll brake for it. But, let’s try to learn something new about the unsavory. An open mind and a positive attitude is contagious. With those virtues we can encourage our children to learn something new about the world they’ll be entrusted to protect.