Small wonder: National Geographic Little Kids editor on the importance of setting an example when it comes to sustainability

Georgia Harrison’s love for nature goes back to her early childhood. “I recently saw some old Betamax footage of me as a toddler happily chatting away to an earthworm while helping my dad out on the veg patch,” says the editor of the recently launched UK version of National Geographic Little Kids magazine.

“I was immersed in nature as a kid, and I really think those early experiences have had a lasting impact on my own love of wildlife, the job I do and the ethical and environmentally-friendly choices I try to make. If you can create a connection between children and nature when they’re really young, they will want to look after it as they get older.”

National Geographic Little Kids UK– National Geographic Little Kids magazine – published by National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company, and licensed to Creature Media, the team behind the hugely popular UK edition of National Geographic Kids magazine – finds inventive ways of making that all-important connection between children and the natural world. Aimed at ages 3-6 and published 13 times a year, the magazine is a packed with activities, puzzles, photos and facts about wildlife and nature. It makes a serious topic a whole lot of fun.

“Pre-schoolers are a little young to be learning about the climate crisis,” says Harrison. “Instead, it’s about showing them how exciting the world is and introducing them to amazing creatures, cultures and habitats.

“At pre-school age all learning is through games and play so it’s about focusing those activities on the natural world. There might be an activity in the magazine where the child is counting narwhals – during which they’re developing key skills in numeracy. But they are also learning that there’s this cool creature called the narwhal and it is has a big horn coming out of its head that’s actually a tooth. It’s about fostering an early love of nature.”

The fact that Little Kids is a print product is part of its appeal and helps to make reading the magazine a bonding experience, says Harrison.

“Giving a child that tactile experience of holding a print magazine is of vital importance. Younger kids will be reading it with their parents, and it involves sitting together, turning the pages together. The pages are interactive – there are some colour-in pages, there are some mazes and sticker activity so it’s something they can engage with, it’s not just a case of looking at a screen.

“A lot of parents do worry about the amount of screen time that their kids have, and Little Kids provides an entertaining way for them to interact with their child. The activities are conversation starters and encourage discussions. And we also suggest physical activities and observation games to take the fun beyond the pages. We want the magazine to work on many levels, and to engage the whole target age range – from toddlers to early readers.”

Parent power

Before launching the UK edition of Little Kids, Creature Media drew confidence from statistics showing the strong resilience of pre-school titles in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, with year-on-year retail sales value up by 4.1%.

The importance of pre-school magazines was further underlined by a survey National Geographic Kids UK carried out in 2019 showing 95% of readers’ parents believe conservation is important to their family.

“Our parents are very eco-conscious – many purchase Nat Geo Kids magazine because they want to instil those same values in their children,” says Harrison. “But what we’ve found is that once kids start reading about environmental and sustainability issues in the mag, they then begin educating and influencing their parents about these issues. It’s a beautiful virtuous circle.”

Parents are not only important to National Geographic as consumers. For Little Kids UK, the team reached out to moms and dads to ensure the content would appeal to their children.

“We wanted to make sure the magazine was engaging so we got together a small group of testers – parents, grandparents as well as educators – and we showed them our initial design,” says Harrison. “We had to hone it slightly, but overall the feedback was great.

“Now that it’s out in the world it’s brilliant to see that it is doing everything we wanted. I have young nieces and it has been a delight going through the magazine with them – what they get out of it. And it’s not something they read once and throw away. It’s something they return to time and again.”

While the first issue of Little Kids UK has been very well received, Harrison is keen for the title to keep evolving and will next use National Geographic Kids’ Parent Panel – which provides the team with feedback – to do a wider survey.

“That way we can find out what else would be useful for them,” she points out. “For example, do we introduce crafts to the magazine, or do we have a letter’s page?”

Leading by example

National Geographic Little Kids UK does not only promote sustainability across it pages but through the way it’s produced as well. The magazine is 100% plastic-free, a significant achievement for a type of magazine that usually comes with plastic gifts attached to the cover.

“When I first started working at National Geographic Kids magazine 10 years ago, our newsstand copies were still wrapped in plastic, we still had the plastic gifts on the front. There was this idea that you couldn’t do a children’s magazine without that,” says Harrison.

“Now, we are completely plastic free. No plastic wrapping, not even any plastic tape. Instead, newsstand copies of Nat Geo Kids UK come wrapped in colourful paper envelopes that have pictures of the contents and the gifts. And those gifts are no longer made in China, but UK produced, paper-based and recyclable. With the new Little Kids UK mag there’s no envelope – every issue comes with gifts of stickers and fact cards. These are stitched within the magazine, which keeps our finishing costs down and means we can sell it at a very competitive price point.”

Harrison credits David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary series, which highlighted the scourge of plastic pollution, for speeding up the move away from the harmful material.

“We’ve been having internal conversations in the business for a long time not wanting to do plastic and then the Attenborough documentary happened, and we thought now is the time. Going plastic-free is something parents were looking for – if they are given a choice they will. They just weren’t given that choice before. Knowing that made us feel more confident about launching this plastic free Little Kids UK magazine.

“And it’s so important for a big iconic brand like National Geographic to take the lead when it comes to sustainability. I think it’s very important that you’re not a hypocrite, especially when teaching children. You have to stand by what you are saying.”


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