Cristy Burne and Deb Fitzpatrick on World Habitat Day
World Habitat Day took place earlier in October, with people all over the world celebrating the places they live. Nature-loving Fremantle Press authors Deb Fitzpatrick and Cristy Burne explore what it’s all about, and suggest some exciting activities on that theme for the classroom or at home.
World Habitat Day is all about the places we live, and our responsibility for these places. I believe we have a responsibility for all the world’s places. That’s a big part of why I wrote Off the Track.
As well as being a grand adventure and a story of fledgling friendship, Off the Track is about falling in love with the great outdoors. (There is also some falling over. But that could happen anywhere.)
How habitats inspired Off the Track
As a kid, I grew up playing in rivers, climbing trees, camping on the holidays … Many parents I meet also fondly remember this sort of childhood.
But modern life can be way too busy (and screen time way too alluring) to fit nature play into children’s lives. And that means many children don’t get the chance to go into the wild, to play in the bush, to experience the grand and mind-boggling beauty of our great outdoors.
In writing Off the Track, I wanted to create a story that lit a fire in my readers. I want kids to read this book, then bug and bug and bug and bug their parents to go camping. To be the first ones to put up their hands for a walk in the bush. To toast marshmallows.
This sort of thing is Super-Great Fun. It’s also key to growing in children a sense of responsibility for all the world’s precious places. Because when you’re out there, being just one small part of it, you start to realise how important our grand habitat is.
In Perth, World Habitat Day falls in spring, a glorious blue-skied, not-too-hot, not-too-cold time of wildflowers and new life. There’s no better time to head outdoors, walk a track, explore a national park, watch and listen, and sniff up the air.
Habitat activities for home and school
If you’re using Off the Track in your classroom or reading it at home, thank you! There are some terrific teaching notes here, and you may also like to try these World Habitat Day activities:
Habitat hunt: Grab pencils and paper and head outside. How many different types of plant or animal can you discover in your garden, the school playground, in the park, at the beach, up a tree? What different habitats can you see? What part of the habitat provides food? Water? Shelter? Write down descriptions of what you see, smell, feel, hear and taste.
Habitat quiz: During their adventure, Harry and Deepika share their habitat with some Australian animals … Research an Australian animal and write a series of clues about the animal and its habitat. How many clues does your partner need to guess the animal?
Get to know your habitat: A habitat is a place that contains all you need to survive. On their hiking trip, Harry and Deepika plan to stay in a three-walled hut. The important bit is the roof, Harry thinks. The fourth wall is really just a luxury. Take a look at your own habitat. What parts of your habitat are vital for you to survive? What parts are luxuries?
Design a future home: Harry feels most at home in a multistorey apartment building. By building homes in apartment blocks – one of top of the other – we can leave more room on the ground for gardens and parks. In the future, what do you think your home will look like? What do you think your city will look like? Design and label your ideal future home. It might be a tree house, a space pod, an underground cave … What is it made from? What features does it have? What are the benefits and challenges of living here?
Create a poster: Research shows green spaces provide a real boost to human happiness. Design a poster that encourages families to get out into the bush for a picnic or a walk.
Go plastic free: This year, World Habitat Day is focused on raising awareness of how much rubbish we produce. Organise a plastic-free day at school or at home. See if you can do a plastic-free groceries shop. Or sign your school up to ensure your plastic really does get recycled.
How habitats inspired The Spectacular Spencer Gray
The critically endangered Gilbert’s potoroo came to my attention when I was reading Australian Geographic magazine a few years ago. I learned that the creatures – slightly smaller than a rabbit, and a relative of the kangaroo – were believed to be extinct until a small population was found in 1994. This population was miniscule – only 30 to 40 individuals in an area east of Albany, Western Australia – making Gilbert’s potoroo the world’s rarest marsupial.
How could I not write about Gilbert’s potoroos? It was clear to me that Spencer Gray would naturally be a crucial part of their survival!
Gilbert’s potoroos are highly vulnerable to fluctuations in their habitat, particularly to the presence of predators (foxes and feral cats) and to bushfires. Due to their alarmingly low numbers and threat of extinction, conservation biologists have focused their efforts on creating two new populations of Gilbert’s potoroo, safe from predators and relatively protected from fire. These two new populations are growing in size and ensuring the future for this truffle-munching marsupial.
It’s not long since a meerkit was brazenly stolen from Perth Zoo, so it’s evident that the vulnerability of native animals must still be impressed upon those who think they’d make ‘great pets’.
Habitat protection activities for kids
Bushfire safety poster: Bushfires can be devastating to animals as well as humans, as they destroy much of the habitat that they call home. Be aware of how a small accident with a match or a campfire can turn into a major disaster for an animal like the Gilbert’s potoroo. Make a safety poster with some top tips on what NOT to do when you go camping or exploring in the wild.
Potoroo factsheet: Different animals use plants and trees for different things. Make an information leaflet about Gilbert’s potoroos and the things they need to survive in the wild. Ask questions like, what are truffles? Where do they grow? Why are they important to Gilbert’s potoroos?
Home is where the habitat is: Animals live in the wild for a reason. In a group, talk about why it’s important to keep animals in their particular habitat, and what can happen to them if you take them away from their habitat.
Animal rescue: What should you do if, like Spencer, you find a native animal that is sick or in danger? Make a flyer that you could give out to other people to tell them what to do in those situations.