A Grand Opportunity

By Mark Goodwin, photographs by Noppadol Paothong | March 18, 2016
From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 2016

“Pawpaw, come quick!” I walked out of the kitchen and onto the patio to see what had caught the attention of my 5-year-old grandson, Chance.

“Look there! Look there!” he exclaimed, pointing to a broadhead skink clinging to the brick siding next to the kitchen window.

Using a technique I perfected when I was a boy, I moved closer, held my right hand in front of the skink, wiggled my fingers to get its attention, then slowly brought my left hand in from behind. At the right moment, I grabbed it.

“You got it, Pawpaw! You got it!” Chance yelled. The skink struggled hard for a moment, then settled in my grip. We both admired the lizard — a male, tan and shiny, with bright orange-red on the sides of its head. It held its mouth open, ready to bite. I told Chance their bite feels like a strong pinch. “You think he might eat a snickerdoodle?” Chance asked.

I laughed. “I don’t know. Go get one and try.” Chance grabbed a snickerdoodle and put it up to the lizard’s face. The skink bit the cookie then quickly let go.

“Guess he likes bugs better than snickerdoodles,” I said. We admired the lizard a little longer, then released it. I turned to Chance just as he took a bite out of the cookie – theone the lizard had just chomped.

Chance’s younger brother, Tristan, was napping andmissed out on the excitement. But when the boys’ mom and dad came to pick them up, he got to tell them about our fishing trip behind the house.

“We played boom baby!” he said excitedly. Translation:They slapped the water with their canoe paddles. “Andwe walked on water!” Translation: I let the boys wade in the shallows.


Their mother called me that nightto tell me the boys talked about the day’s adventures all the way home. That made me a happy grandpa.

For generations, my family has used the outdoors as a source of fun,memories, and common ground — a means of keeping family close. When I first became a grandparent with twins, I knew I would enjoy sharing time with them in the outdoors, just as I had with my three children. Now, with seven grandchildren, I have learned that grandparents are key to sparking a child’s passion for the outdoors.

Special Status and Leisure Time

Parents today are busy. They work long hours while kids go to daycare or school. Evenings involve running to activities, meal preparation and clean up, baths, maybe a little playtime, and then bed. The pace is hectic.

Life at grandma and grandpa’s house is much more relaxed. It’s a great place for all kinds of fun activities, especially outdoors.

Learning About Nature

Children are naturally curious about living things. Here are some simple steps I’ve taken to nurture that curiosity in my grandchildren.

The backyard is a great place to explore and look for wildlife. Let your grandchildren help make your yard wildlife friendly. Establish bird feeders and enjoy watching and identifying birds as they stop to eat. Suet cakes and black oil sunflower seeds attract a variety of birds. Put out hummingbird feeders in spring, and add feeders as the hummingbirds increase. Let the grandkids help plant flowers that will attract butterflies. Add rock landscaping to provide habitat for toads.

Kids often enjoy capturing animals. Invest in a couple butterfly nets and small, plastic terrariums. Butterfly nets can be used to catch insects and a variety of other animals, while terrariums can be used as temporary quarters for a captured animal. Most kids enjoy making “homes” for the animals they catch by adding grass, sticks, and dirt to a container. At our house, toads often receive the most attention.

With proper guidance, your grandchildren will understand the importance of releasing all animals at the end of the day. The animals will be there to catch again next time.

Consider purchasing a quality camera. Take photos of your grandchildren and the animals they capture and put together a photo album to preserve the fun. The beauty of a tiger swallowtail feeding on a purple coneflower, for example, might instill in your grandchildren an interest in photography. Let your grandkids take photos, too.

To help your grandchildren learn about the animals they find, put together a small collection of field guides. The Department offers a number of publications that feature excellent photographs and information. A small nature library at grandma and grandpa’s will help your grandchildren develop an interest in books, which in coming years will contribute to making school a positive experience.

Spending the night at grandma and grandpa’s is a special treat, and it can be a great time for kids to enjoy the outdoors. Buy a portable fire pit. Just before dusk, let the kids catch fireflies and put them in jars to be released later. Keep graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows on hand for making s’mores — always a big hit.

Sitting by the fire is a good time to observe and learn about night animals. By midsummer, katydids are calling from the trees. After an evening shower, gray tree frogs often call. By late summer, tree crickets add their voice to the nightime chorus. Even if you live in town, there’s the opportunity to hear a barred owl or see an opossum scurry across the yard. Leave a porch light on overnight so, in the morning, the grandkids can see what insects came to visit. Maybe they will find a luna moth sleeping on the screen door or a stag beetle on its back, trying to right itself. All offer great opportunities for photos to add to your photo album.


Fishing is an activity you can enjoy with your grandchildren at an early age. My wife, Crystal, and I began taking our grandson Jasper fishing when he was just over 2 years old. I remembered the fishing routine for my children when they were preschoolers — keep the trips safe, short, and fun. Safety is foremost. One negative fishing experience for a youngster can ruin an interest for a lifetime. Life jackets are a must, as is caution with fishing hooks.

Make fishing trips enjoyable by focusing on what the kids find fun. I planned one of Jasper’s first fishing trips around a bluegill bed in the pond behind our house. At the time, fish were striking on practically every cast.

Great opportunity for Jasper, I thought. We planned to hook a bluegill, then hand Jasper the pole. Jasper reeled in several bluegill, but what he most enjoyed was looking at the fish in the fish basket, leaning over the side of the canoe and splashing the water with his hands, and playing with the sculling paddle. Twenty minutes into the trip I asked, “Hey, Jasper. You having a good time?” He looked up at me with a big smile and exclaimed, “I yuv dis boat!” I knew then — mission accomplished.

The state’s many clear creeks offer the best opportunitiesto introduce young children to fishing. Bring dip nets so they can try catching critters. The variety of animalsfound in streams also allows them to learn about other aquatic life. Bring a seine and catch live bait. The minnows, tadpoles, crayfish, darters, and hellgrammites will fascinate your grandchildren.

Cleaning fish is an excellent opportunity to teach your grandchildren where meat comes from — an important part of understanding nature’s design. At just over 2 years old, my grandchildren began helping me clean fish. When Jasper, at age 2, first watched me clean fish, I removed the first fillet, held it up and said, “This is what we eat.” Jasper responded with a firm, “No, Pawpaw.” He didn’t equate that strip of raw fish with the fillets, fried golden and crispy, he so enjoys at mealtime.

I explained to him we fry the fillets before we eat them. Then I asked if he would help by putting the fillets in the pan of cold water I had nearby. Jasper quickly became one of my fish-cleaning buddies. If I forget to hand Jasper a fillet and put it in the rinse bowl myself, Jasper, now going on 5 years old, says, “Hey, Pawpaw. That’s my job.”


If you are a grandparent who enjoys hunting, it’s important to realizethat many adults unintentionally turn youngsters away from huntingby introducing them too soon.

Bringing home game often involves levels of patience and physical stamina that youngsters lack. As with allintroductions to the outdoors, hunting must be made fun for a child.

For most youngsters, fun in hunting involves a fast pace and being part of the action. Dove hunting fits these requirements. If you have a spot where large numbers of doves frequent, you can take a child, even a preschooler. But, again, the hunt must be tailored to the child. Set up in the shade for comfort, bring comfortable chairs, and bring the youngster’s favorite drinks and snacks. And, of course, the child must be accustomed to gunfire. A fun way for a youngster to take part in a dove hunt is let him serve as a retriever, running out and bringing back the doves you bag. Little ones also enjoy counting and keeping track of the number of doves bagged — a way to show off their math skills and to begin learning about hunting regulations and bag limits.

If you are a turkey hunter with a 6-year-old grandchild who is begging you to go turkey hunting, is it a good idea? Depends on the child. Sometimes turkey hunting offers fast action, but most of the time it requires a lot of patience and sitting still.

As an alternative, buy her some camouflage clothing and plan an early-morning turkey-scouting trip. Bring hot chocolate and her favorite donuts. From the comfort of your truck, roll down the windows and listen to turkeys gobble. Let her play with your box call. Mix in plenty of hugs and praise. Youngsters want to please — hugs and praise serve as affirmation.

In all this time together, love, respect, and understanding grows between grandparent and grandchild and between grandchild and the natural world. The opportunity is grand.

Also In This Issue

caged squirrel
Use a cage-type trap to harvest rabbits, squirrels, and groundhogs with ease.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler