A teacher once told me a story about a little girl who was refusing to drink water at home because she had learned at school how scarce this resource was becoming on our planet. “We’re doing it all wrong”, sighed my friend.
Animals, plants and other organisms are getting extinct at alarming rates, habitats are being destroyed, the planet’s average temperature is rising, the seas are overfished, pollutants have reached even the most pristine locations.
I could write dozens of posts on each of these and other environmental issues, with gruesome details that make my hair stand on end. Yet, in the midst of so many problems, how can we teach children to respect the environment without making them outright scared?
First of all, I believe teaching children how to respect the environment is a misnomer, at least in part (thus the quotes in the title). In my view, humans and the environment are dissociable. Even if we are partial to the belief that mankind is somehow superior or dominant over nature, we still depend on it for virtually everything.
As my six-year old son once said as I was trying to convince him to choose something that was more “natural”: “But mom, in the end everything comes from nature!” Yes, whether you live in a forest, by the sea or in a big city with no parks, you are always surrounded by nature in some way or another. In fact, we ourselves are natural environments – think of all the microorganisms we carry around!
Thus, “teaching” children about nature and how to respect nature is like teaching them to respect their own bodies, families or homes. Yes, teaching will often be necessary, but part of the knowledge comes from within, as I will discuss ahead. But first, let me talk about the other part, which comes from example and starts in the womb.
If you think about it, the uterus is the first environment we are exposed to. So the initial question would be: how are women respecting their bodies when they were pregnant? Also, how are children being received into their second environment, the Earth? How peaceful and respectful is the process of birth?
Having arrived on this planet, example will continue as children inevitably observe their parents’ actions: what they eat, how they take care of their health, what and how much they buy, how they treat animals and plants, how they treat other people, how they arrange their homes. All of this is related to the environment also.
Story number two. I was recently at a meeting of the environmental organization I am part of, when we were discussing why it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract people to support and address environmental causes. One thing that downed on me was how scary the negative approach often used by environmental groups must be to people. Instead of putting forth positive proposals and solutions, a common tactic is to spread a multitude of negative information and try to scare people (!!) into becoming greener.
Added to all the other bad news around, it often has the opposite effect and just stimulates people to live as “best” as possible while they can – why be green if the Earth is doomed anyway? It can also stimulate other less-than ideal feelings, such as guilt for not being “perfectly green” or an obsession to become so.
As I have said, this fear also applies to children, and a good example can solve the problem in part. It is not enough, however. The second part of the answer has to do with a more spiritual dimension of nature (and by spiritual I do not necessarily mean in a religious way, but in a broader sense).
Instead of fear, we must try to incite our children to be in awe of nature and to feel the innate connection with all that surrounds them – the inner knowledge I mentioned above.
Let me illustrate with an example by Eckhart Tolle, who once said (in a webinar, I believe, I don’t recall for sure), we must not hurry to teach small children the names of plants and animals. According to him, labels create a sort of “barrier” between the child and the living organism in question. In my opinion this also makes the child start to perceive a “separation” between him/her and the rest of nature. So what Tolle recommended was to allow the child to see, touch, feel or simply stand in awe towards the new being he/she is presented to.
Of course, at some point we can teach children the “technicalities” of nature, but there is no hurry for that to begin. If before getting to all of the explanations on why we must conserve nature, moms and dads around the world can simply make their children breathless before the nature within themselves and outside, then planet will surely begin to heal.
How do you perceive nature? Do you teach your children about it? How?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Eco Ziva of Brazil.
Photo credit to the author.
I totally agree with you. This thought has been within me too though I have not consciously labelled it. We try to inculcate a love and respect for nature in our son.
We admire the clouds in the sky everday for half an hour, star gaze on a cloudless night, teach him about the vastness of the universe, etc. And consciously we try to avoid wastage, of all kinds – of foods, tissues, of all products. And we dont teach him to be like, he just follows us, does what we do, grows into not wasting much.
My feeling is that he has started truly appreciating nature and almost reveres it unconsciously.
Your post makes a lot of sense. It is indeed necessary for us not to consciously separate us and nature, but infact feel us to be part of it.
We love stargazing too! Great way to feel connected!
I love what you have to say about raising kids to be in awe of nature. Such a great message!!!
We spend a lot of time talking about nature, and between this post and yesterday’s post, I feel like I want to be outdoors today!
How do I teach my children about nature? By doing things like jumping in the puddles during a rainstorm and going outside to wonder where all the birds are during the rain. We go to the beach a lot, too. So, I guess that paired with natural history museums and programming about animals is how I’ve been doing it. But, one thing I haven’t been doing, is explaining more about the big picture and conservation. I’m glad I read this!!
Welcome to the team, EcoZiva!
Thank you, Jen!
I think jumping in puddles is a great way to get kids to interact with nature! My son loves that too!! 🙂
I think our kids learn by our example. What we get excited about-they get excited about.
I think you might like this post- http://exmoorjane.blogspot.com/2011/06/jerusalem-is-complicated.html . She only briefly mentions the zoo teaching about environment, but that is one of their big purposes. They give a discount to groups who agree to take their free of charge guide who weaves in things about the environment and conservation while teaching about animals and the zoo.
Interesting post, thanks Susie!
I agree with Eckhart Tolle – the over intellectualisation of information (for young children) does remove them from the wonder of the world. This was also a belief of Rudolf Steiner and I have always been impressed with how connected to nature the Waldorf students seem to be.
For Craig and I one key aspect of keeping that natural connection is to ensure our children know where their food comes from. They have been around vege gardens and orchards all of their lives and our two older boys (nine and six) have even seen a farmer slaughter a sheep!
Yes, the connection with nature was one of the reasons our family chose a Waldorf school!