The tips of the day now through Earth Day are focusing on environmental stewardship.
Probably the best thing you can do for Mother Nature is to teach your children to respect it. Below are some ideas on how to do so. I hope you’ll add any additional tips or ideas in the comment section so that all might benefit.
- Engage them in the garden. Check out my post about Gardening with Children to learn more about how to do that.
- Let them help with composting and recycling. When they start doing those things early, they won’t think twice about recycling a jar instead of dumping it in the trash. Not only that, but when they are at other people’s homes they’ll ask, “Where do I recycle this jar?” Out of the mouths of babes are some of the best lessons for grownups.
- Read books and watch films that focus on nature. As a family we enjoy watching Nova on PBS from time to time, and our daughter delights at seeing underwater sea creatures and animals from worlds away. We have friends who homeschool, and I often steal their lessons and use them with our daughter. A year or so ago, they were studying caves and had lessons on bats, rock formations, and minerals. We checked books out of the library and made a trip up to Mammoth Cave.
- Let them see your excitement. We get pretty excited about worms in our family. We call them “The Gardener’s Friend”. Our daughter enjoys naming them and moving them to new homes so that they can loosen the soil in other areas of the yard. Had I been grossed out by worms she probably wouldn’t be so receptive to picking them up, examining them, and wondering at their unusual bodies and purpose.
- Teach them the “why”. A long time ago, we started saying in our house that when you are leaving the refrigerator open too long you need to shut it to “Save the Penguins”. Our daughter was intrigued by penguins at the time, and it became a way for us to talk to her in simplistic terms about how our actions affect others. Take your kids to your local recycling center so that they can see the “why” of recycling. Likewise, take them to the city dump so they see what happens to the waste. Talk through things with them as you are doing them.
- Visit museums, wildlife refuges, forests, oceans. Take a trip to a natural history or science museum so that they get a sense of ecosystems and how we all interrelate. I have a friend who was lucky enough to visit a gorilla refuge in Africa as a child. Now she is on a national board for protecting these animals and just last year was able to make a visit and see a new refuge being opened. Those kind of experiences make lasting impressions on young minds. Even something as simple as taking a trip in the forest and talking with your children about how the woods are being affected by invasive species and insects gives them a bigger picture experience. I have a friend who was a park ranger when younger, and she has led hikes with parents and children on various trails in our area. Each time I’m with her, I see our daughter’s world experience being broadened, not to mention my own.
- Take them to the farmers markets and visit local farms. I think that one of the many blessings my parents gave me was teaching me where food comes from. Kids as a whole today not only do not know when a beet is in season but they can’t pick one out at the market. Much less, many cannot pick one out when it is growing in the earth. By taking them to pick-your-own farms, they’ll know that peaches are ripe in the summer, and pumpkins and apples are ripe in the fall. Also, take them to markets and farms in different areas of the country/world so that they can experience seasonal, locally grown food from other places.
- Let them cook with you. Get your kids in the kitchen any chance you can. I know that it takes longer, and I know there are times when it is easier to just do it yourself. Yet, teaching them to cook is a gift that you give them. They will have an appreciation for food and what goes into getting that food on the table.
- Let others teach them. Programs like scouts and 4H are wonderful resources for kids to learn more about nature. How I wish that I had been able to be involved in such programs when I was growing up! We didn’t have them available in our small school, and I would sometimes dream of what it would be like to show a pig like in Charlotte’s Web or jam like in Little House on the Prairie.
Note, I’m not an expert on parenthood. I helped to raise my sister after our mother died when we were young (I was 10 at the time) and that experience helped me to get a sense of teaching another person life skills. Now my husband and I have a 5 year old, and I’m learning even more about instilling in her the knowledge that she needs not only to survive but to be a community member. That said, I welcome any other ideas you have on getting children excited about nature and teaching them about environmental stewardship.