It’s a productive time for Dr. Jane Goodall. The 86-year-old environmentalist hasn’t been on a plane since March, which is a bit of a lifestyle change for someone who normally travels 300 out of 365 days a year, but she’s busier than ever these days working on countless projects and partnership from her family home in England. One such collaboration, between the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and Crate & Kids, launched this week, and the intention behind it couldn't be more clear.
The mission of JGI is to "inspire individual action by young people of all ages to help animals, other people and to protect the world we all share.” The partnership between JGI and Crate & Kids may seem unlikely, but encouraging children to engage with and build a relationship with nature is a priority for her — this is evident through through her speaking engagements, focus on writing and reading aloud of children's books (which you can catch on her YouTube channel), her work with the Roots & Shoots program, and projects like this very collaboration. Of course proceeds from the 60 years ago, at the at of 26, Jane Goodall embarked on her first research trip to Gombe, Tanzania to study chimpanzees in their natural habitat. She gets to share a little bit of her experience with kids today by surrounding them with images of the animals and plants that has she spent so much time amongst in her lifetime.
The animals, patterns, and pieces represented in the collection are indeed inspired by Dr. Goodall’s personal experience conducting research in Gombe and Serengeti, Africa. But she doesn’t pretend for a second to be the creative mastermind behind the collection. When asked how involved she was in the design process she simply states, “I wasn’t.” But she did have one request for the designers of the Crate & Kids team: “Please take your inspiration, not from me, but from nature.” According to Dr. Goodall, “That's what they did.”
Since your little one is not likely hopping on a plane to Tanzania or Africa any time soon, you can perhaps bring a little bit of Jane Goodall’s world to them with the help of this collection. Leopard-patterned rugs, cozy armchairs featuring lemurs and sea creatures, giraffe and zebra hooded bath towels, monkey-shaped pillows, a research tent playhouse inspired by the actual structure Dr. Goodall herself worked from during her first years in Gombe — these are all meant to spark your child's imagination. Young people are naturally inquisitive and by surrounding them with images of animals they probably don’t see everyday, you’re inviting them to wonder about different parts of the world and its inhabitants, giving them the opportunity to ask questions, and nurturing the one thing that they can’t shake (and hopefully never will): their curiosity.
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But who best to speak more on this collection than Dr. Goodall herself? Read on for our interview with the esteemed author and scientist on the collection, the power of curiosity, and her message for today’s youth.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hi Dr. Goodall, how are you?
I have never been as busy and exhausted in my entire life. And that's saying something.
I've been traveling 300 days a year. It was exhausting, but this is twice as exhausting.
Can you tell me about how involved you were in the design process?
I really wasn't. I mean, my input was, let's bring nature into a child's life and you guys you're the design people, you have the expertise and the skill. I can't say I have any expertise or practice or involvement in children's pillows and things like that, but these are people whose expertise it is. The main thing is, please take your inspiration, not from me, but from nature. That's what they did.
Did your love of animals begin when you started reading?
No, before that. I popped out of my mother's womb loving animals. I don't know where I get it from.
Are there any animals that you're afraid of or nervous around?
I used to be a bit nervous about leopards. I don't know why. I don't like the giant centipedes — they have poison that would kill a child — but I've encountered them many times and they've never hurt me. I've had poisonous snakes crawl over me, crawl up here, crawl up my neck and up into the tree.
And what do you do in that moment?
You sit calmly and think, well, the snake would be more frightened of me. I'm much bigger than it is. It would only strike if it was frightened. I'm not prey, so they don't want to waste their venom. That's what people need to understand.
Do you have a favorite product from this collection?
My sister, when she was growing up, she couldn't go anywhere without her little pillow. My son, when he was a baby, he loved his pillow. So quite clearly, I'm attracted to the pillows and their designs.
There's an adorable research tent that's inspired by the one you worked out of in Gombe. How accurate is it to the real thing?
Well, most of it is as accurate as you can be when you're doing something for a child's bedroom. I think the only thing which could not be replicated is the fact that in actual fact, it was a very old, secondhand, ex-army tent. And you really don't want to put that in a child's room. And also it was in the olden days. So there was no Sonian groundsheet, no mosquito netting, and that's not the way that people go camping today.
Even the army, they have nice Sonian groundsheets and everything. So when you're doing something like this, you don't really want to be too accurate. You just want to get the feeling. And the main thing is, get children excited about trees, and flowers, and animals, and encourage them to go out and look for themselves.
So in a way, what they're seeing is a fantasy, like when I read Dr. Dolittle and Tarzan. But reading Dr. Dolittle and Tarzan inspired me to go out and watch the birds, and the butterflies, and the bees, and the jumping spiders in my garden out here.
And hopefully, it'll work that way with children and keep them from spending so much time on video games, and cell phones, and social media.
I wanted to ask you about the word curiosity. You are such an advocate for curiosity in children. Why is it so important for children to be curious? Does it diminish as an adult?
Not at all. I mean, what we're finding out about animals now, it's just amazing and makes you more and more and more curious. How does this creature survive? Also, with climate change and all the forests that were perpetrating, how will creatures survive and what will the result of this be, and what will that lead to? So it's constant curiosity and it stimulates the mind — as Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie would say, stimulates the little gray cells.
When I was four and a half, I was taken for a holiday on a farm in the country and as we lived in London, this was exciting. And cows, pig sheep, a proper farm. Not one of these factory farms, but out in the fields. And my job, if I was given, was to help collect the hen's eggs. Sometimes they were in the hedgerows because they were all free, but they were supposed to lay them in the hen houses with the nice domestic boxes, most of it. So I would collect the eggs, but then I began asking everybody, “But where does the egg come out of the hen?” And nobody told me. So I remember seeing the hen go into the hen house, and I followed her. Big mistake. She flew out, squawks of fear, and even at 4 ½, I must have thought, no hen will lay an egg here. This is a frightening place. So I went into an empty hen house and apparently, I was gone for four hours and nobody knew where I was. They called the police, and it was getting towards evening, and my mother was desperately searching. What an amazing woman she was because instead of getting mad at me, "How dare you go off without telling us?" She saw my excitement and sat down to hear this wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg. And that is the making of the little scientists, starting with curiosity.
Curiosity: not getting the answers to your questions, deciding to find out for yourself, and then making a mistake like crawling after the hen, not giving up and learning patience. A different mother might have crushed that curiosity.
What have the chimpanzees taught you about motherhood?
Well, partly, of course it was watching mothers and infants and seeing this development, this gradual development. Seeing good mothers and bad mothers. And I think the thing I learned most and wanted to emulate, and did emulate with my own child, was play. They play, they love their babies and they play with them. They tickle them, they push them back and forth. They chase them around a tree trunk, they laugh with them, they roll about on the ground with them. I did all those things with my son and children love being played with. Some mothers are too staid and too proper, and they don't want to mess their hair. Of course I was at Gombe so it didn’t matter. I've never cared anyway.
How about the reverse? What did you learn from your son that you would never have learned anywhere else?
"Just a girl." This phrase was said to you when you were very young.
Very young. I must've dreamed of Africa when I was 10. I wanted to go and live with wild animals. How could I? I told my mother and she didn't say crazy — she probably thought it, but she didn't say it. She said, “If you want to do something like this, then you'll have to work extremely hard, take advantage of every opportunity. Then if you don't give up, you may find a way.” I've given that message to children around the world, particularly in disadvantaged communities.
What do you say to girls who are being told the same thing?
Just that. Follow your dream.
I've had so many people write back and say, "Jane, I want to thank you because you taught me. Because you did it, I can do it too. You followed your dream. I'm going to follow mine."
Do you consider yourself a fearless person?
I don't really think about it. I don’t know. I mean, I've just done what I wanted to do, and sometimes it's a bit spooky, but I had this crazy idea when I got to Gombe: Well, I'm meant to be here, so nothing's going to happen. And I told you, I was a bit scared of leopards back then, but you sometimes hear them at night coughing. And so I used to run down from my peak to have supper with my mother (she came for the first four months because I wasn’t allowed to be on my own), and I’d climb back up in the dark, and I had a little flashlight, and I had this ridiculous feeling: Here I am in this circle of light, I'm safe. But of course the circle of light was illuminating me for all the leopards in kingdom come.
But nobody did attack me or hurt me.
I think if you just have a calm aura around you, animals know. They sense it.
My daughter is afraid of spiders but the other day we moved a spider from inside the house to outside and she later wanted to check on it. I realize that trying not to be overprotective and exposing her to things, even if they make my husband or myself uncomfortable, is so important.
And good chimpanzee mothers are protective, but they're not overprotective. They keep an eye, but they let the child do things. That's really, really important.
How old is your daughter?
You must let me know what she likes best from the collection. Because that's the key. It's what the kids like, not what I like.