I am a professional entomologist. I studied insects and spiders at the college level, and I educate people about how to manage and prevent bugs from bugging them. Though I have always had an appreciation for insects, I didn’t know urban entomology and pest management would be a career option for me, and I was an adult when I decided on a non-traditional career for a woman. Unfortunately, many children lack the role models, resources, and support to follow their passion.
A true story that is near and dear to my heart is the story of Sophia Spencer, a Canadian girl whose love for bugs brought out a negative reaction at school simply because bullies believed that girls should not like bugs. Seven-year-old Sophia was ready to give up her favorite things, until her mom jumped in to help her out. As a parent, I can understand the feelings of frustration and helplessness, not knowing exactly how to help your child. Desperate to encourage her daughter, Sophia’s mother wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada and a post on Twitter was sent out to entomologists around the world like a red alert. As a woman entomologist, I responded immediately by sending one of hundreds of messages intended for Sophia. Little did Sophia’s mom know, she initiated a huge movement, which is now associated with the hashtag #BugsR4Girls.
So, what can we learn from Sophia’s experience?
HERE ARE 10 WAYS ALL ADULTS CAN SUPPORT LIFELONG LEARNING, DISCOVERY, AND THE SUCCESS OF CHILDREN:
1. BE KIND
Teach kindness, empathy, and respect for each other.
2. SUPPORT THE CHILD
Commit to learning with them, foster their curiosity, and support their interests, whether it be fleeting or lasting. Do some research, buy or borrow some books, find a podcast, or a video.
3. ASK FOR HELP
Reach out to an expert in the field through a professional organization or college directory. Passionate people love to share their passion with others.
4. TOYS AND PLAY SHOULD BE GENDER-NEUTRAL
Set aside conceptions of what boys and girls should play with and how they should play, so that all children can benefit from toys and activities.
5. NATURE IS FOR EVERYONE
Encourage children, regardless of gender, to ask questions and use all of their sense to discovery the world around them. Nature play is beneficial for a child’s overall development, health, and wellbeing.
6. SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BE USED FOR GOOD
Whichever outlet you prefer, set your boundaries, and follow through. Social media has a way of bringing people closer, but can also be intertwined with negative outcomes.
7. BE A MENTOR
If you have an expertise in something, you can inspire, nurture, and help a child struggling to find a role model.
8. YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG (OR OLD) TO INSPIRE
Role models come in all shapes and sizes. Small voices can be heard, we need to elevate them.
9. FOLLOW YOUR PASSION
Children follow our lead and if we show passion for our work or hobbies, they will seek out the same for their own lives.
10. LEARN WHY INSECTS ARE IMPORTANT
Yes, insects at times can be challenge, but they are also a major pollinator supporter of crops and flowers. Introduce children to insects through art, music, literature, and simple observations.
Sophia not only found a community of entomologists to encourage her love for insects, but in the last few years has co-authored a scientific paper and wrote a children’s book. To learn more about her experience in her own words and voice, read and listen to the NPR story from 2017 or recent (2020) CBC Radio story. She definitely showed the world that bugs were for her and she continues to inspire others with her story.
Arthro-Pod EP 71: #BugsR4Girls with Sophia Spencer. http://arthro-pod.blogspot.com/2020/03/arthro-pod-ep-71-bugsr4girls-with.html
Jackson, M. and Spencer, S. (2017) Engaging for a Good Cause: Sophia’s Story and Why #BugsR4Girls. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 110 (5): 439-448. https://doi.org/10.1093/aesa/sax055
Spencer, S. and McNamera, M. (2020). The Bug Girl (A True Story). New York: Schwartz & Wade Books.
4-H. Entomology Curriculum: Teaming with Insects. https://4-h.org/parents/curriculum/entomology/
JODY GREEN, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | Urban Entomology
Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Katherine Krause, Extension Educator, The Learning Child
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