Nature has always been an important part of my life. I remember climbing trees and building forts in the strip of woods behind my house, camping overnights with the Girl Scouts, watching bugs, building terrariums for ladybugs and caterpillars. I remember being in third grade math class and hearing about the hole in the ozone layer and getting really worried by it. I remember being at home one Earth Day as a young child in the late eighties and thinking about the fact that it was Earth Day, recycling, picking up litter, not driving, and the like. My desire to protect the environment has always been an important part of my life. It only strengthened as I learned more about environmental destruction, and when I became a mother.
One of the best ways to protect the environment is to teach our children to love Nature, and to recognize themselves as an integral part of the natural world. Then they will realize its importance and want to protect it too. If each generation grows further and further apart from Nature, what hope will we ever have to save it?
Here is how I am teaching my young kids to love and be a part of Nature. It’s all very informal and taught in brief moments, but the cumulative effect is great.
1. Close Encounters with Insects, Plants & Animals
When we are outside we make a point of observing insects, spiders, plants and animals: what do they look like, what are they doing? I made a point of telling my kids anything I know about those things even if I can’t provide great detail. We find old birds’ nests and examine them. I teach that black and yellow coloring on an insects means that it stings so stay away. I teach them that even if a bug or spider is scary looking we do not kill it. My son loves climbing trees, and my daughter wishes she was big enough to do it too. We take small hikes when we can to be in the forest, by the lake or a frog pond. We visit ECHO in Burlington to learn more about Vermont and the Lake Champlain ecosystem.
2. Knowing where Food Comes From
My kids know that bees make honey, chickens make eggs, cows make milk, wool comes from sheep, maple syrup comes from tree sap, apples grow on trees, potatoes grow underground, green beans grow on vines, etc. We have a garden, chickens, fruit trees, and do our own maple sugaring and involve our kids in an age appropriate way. Even if you don’t have a garden or chickens, we are fortunate in Vermont to have Shelburne Farms as an amazing food and agricultural education resource, and lots of family farms that promote education through agri-tourism and first-hand experiences.
3. Learning About Waste
We recycle and are teaching our preschooler what goes in the recycling and what goes in the trash. We make art projects using recyclables. We also compost our food waste so he knows that things like apple cores and banana peels turn back into soil that we can then use in our garden to help other things grow.
4. Teaching Basic Conservation
This can be a difficult concept for a young child. The only things we have tackled in this department is that 1) lights stay off when the sun is out so we don’t waste electricity, and 2) Turn off lights when you leave the room. We also talk about turning off the water so the fish can have some too. Here is a link to cartoon from my own Sesame Street watching days that is still relevant.
These lessons will grow more sophisticated as my kids age, but for now, I think it’s a good start.
Are you and your kids connected to Nature? What else, if anything, do you do to foster the connection?