Female First speaks exclusively to Jess French ahead of her new Cbeebies series Minibeast Adventure.
What drew you to get involved with new nature series Minibeast Adventure?
I have been involved with conservation and environmental education for many years now. My great ambition in life is to enthuse and inspire as much of the next generation as I possibly can to connect with nature and ultimately to want to protect it. I also absolutely love weird and wonderful animals, especially minibeasts and really enjoy showing children that they are not scary or dangerous but fascinating and very interesting.
What can children watching this on Cbeebies take away from the show?
Most importantly I hope to show children that we have a whole world of exciting and interesting creatures right here in our UK parks and gardens. That they don’t have to go to the other side of the world to find amazing animals and that searching for bugs is great fun! I hope the show will encourage kids to get outside and foster a love and respect for the natural world. There are also lots of links with the KS1 science curriculum, we cover life-cycles and habitats and will hopefully spark an excitement for nature which will last for their whole lives. Above all, I hope that after watching the show, children will be more keen to get outside, be active and care about the environment – as one day it will be their job to protect it.
You say that some of this generation of kids have 'Nature Deficit Disorder' - what do you mean by that and how can we go about making that less and less?
The concept of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ refers to the human cost of alienation from nature. The idea is that increased time spent in front of screens and decreased time outdoors leads to increased levels of emotional and physical illness, behavioural problems, obesity and attention difficulties. To prevent it, it is important to schedule time for outdoor play and to connect with nature.
How important is it for children to be knowledgeable about the nature and world around them?
I think it is very important for children to understand our place in the natural world. We are becoming more and more isolated from nature and the outdoors and this is having physical and emotional repercussions. Spending time in nature is very calming and can help to focus young minds. But being outdoors and spending time in nature may be frightening to children who have not had much exposure to it. By improving their knowledge and understanding of nature and the world around them we can diminish fear and increase engagement with the outdoors. Learning about nature also gives children the opportunity to observe, test, record data and classify, key skills as they grow as individuals, which can be used across the curriculum at school.
Has nature always been something you've been interested in?
I have loved nature and playing outdoors for as long as I can remember. As a child I spent my weekends searching for bugs in the woods with my dad and I always had some sort of science project on the go. I loved climbing trees and building dens. I have always felt happiest outdoors.
What is it about the world of nature that appeals to you?
I love animals, I’m not sure why I love them so much, but I always have. I also love observing the passing of time through watching nature; the change of seasons, baby birds fledging, little spring lambs growing up. I find being outside and in nature very calming. It is the one time I feel disconnected from all the technology, which seems to take over every other aspect of my life, and the time when my thoughts are most settled. Spending time in nature really recharges my batteries.
What have been some of your favourite moments in your career so far?
This was my first presenting job. I absolutely loved every minute of it! Seeing the children get so excited about minibeasts was fantastic and we all had a lot of laughs. A particularly special moment was when Judith, a deaf girl that we were looking for slugs with, spotted the slugs breathing hole and told me about it excitedly in sign language. I never tire of seeing children’s faces light up when they finally find minibeasts after a long hunt or spot something interesting about its anatomy or environment.
Do you have any other projects underway that you can share some details about?
I am currently studying for a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery and also writing some children’s books about minibeast hunting.
Minibeast Adventure with Jess airs weekdays from Monday 21st April at 10.30am, on Cbeebies