I attribute this love of collecting the natural world to my own mom, not only is she an avid gardner but she also has a nack when it comes to getting kids interested in the outdoors. I clearly remember when my sister and I were young each fall our mom would get us started on the annual seed project. The seed project entailed us collecting a variety of different seeds, nuts, cones and leaves then glueing them to pieces of poster board- each specimen being identified by its corresponding label.
This example of learning and collecting our natural environment is one of many that I could relate, an appreciation and love of our natural environment runs deep for most in our family. My maternal grandmother was a forager long before it was hip to gather thistles and dandelions, knowing what plants one could eat and what plants would heal. Not to mention what plants one could turn into wine!
The bits and pieces that are unloaded out of our buckets and pockets at the end of the day have become part of our permanent collection, equally important to the art hanging on the wall. We have a rotating exhibition of natural curiosities all with in easy reach of a 2 and 4 year old. We want these totems of the outdoors to be accessible, to be taken down, examined and played with.
I feel with the disconnect from nature that comes with living in the city- not only in kids but in myself as well- all our treasures collected up on sandy shores or forest floors is an important reminder to get out there and play!
ps- just to mention that we never ever take a living animal or pick a plant from its environment- the shells and sand dollar were all found high and dry. We collect what we love and leave plenty for others.