We’ve come a long way from the very first Earth Day, when plenty of people still believed that the Earth was so big that its resources were limitless and pollution had no long-term repercussions.
There are some basic steps we can all take to instill in our little ones a deep appreciation for our planet and all its wonders so that they can protect and preserve it for their own children. We talk about these ideas all the time here at TMG, but we can always use a reminder.
1. Get outside.
The more time you spend outdoors, the more in tune you become with the natural world. Getting outside means—within reason—braving different types of weather. It likely means getting dirty or wet—but that just means you dress accordingly. A bit of mud never hurt anyone.
Even very urban settings have arboretums and parks to explore. The living things that manage to thrive there are far more diverse than you might imagine—but you have to go find out for yourself.
We talk a lot about ‘your own backyard’ on TMG and how the appreciation of nature starts there. A very young child can’t fully comprehend a huge canyon or waterfall, but they can examine a spider web, a nest, a flower. Start simple, start small, and build from there.
2. Set an example.
Recently, I attended a children’s educational event on recycling. We discussed how incredibly long it takes for a glass jar to decompose (if ever) and how styrofoam doesn’t biodegrade. Then we proceeded to consume individually-sized juice boxes and snacks packaged in plastic. What lesson did these children learn?
If your town has a landfill or recycling center, consider paying it a visit. The sheer volume of trash is incredibly sobering. Even a young child can understand that the mounds of refuse all started out from a single garbage can.
When we’re out on a hike, we try our best to pick up other people’s trash that we encounter (of course, you want to caution young children to show you litter before picking it up—so much of it is sharp or otherwise hazardous to little ones). Take a bag with you so you can take back any of your own trash and a bit of other people’s as well.
Commit to reusable bags and containers. We know we should use them, but even so it can seem easier to buy prepackaged items and throw the whole lot away (in the recycling bin, of course). Consider the wastefulness of those choices—the energy spent manufacturing and transporting packaging that later clutters the earth, perhaps indefinitely.
3. Expand your own knowledge.
Learn the names of the plants, insects, and animals you see. Learn about their life cycles and seasonal changes. Try your hand at identifying an interesting rock or shell. The more you learn, the more you can share with your children.
If you are lucky enough to have a local nature center, pay them a visit. They can be tremendous sources of knowledge about local flora and fauna.
There are such wonderful resources in books and on the Internet these days, and there are so many that are aimed at the very young. Take full advantage of your local library, but also keep your eye out for used books—there are many wonderful out-of-print publications that would make great additions to your nature library.
“Experts” aren’t always trained naturalists. My grandmother knew the name of nearly every plant she encountered, wild or cultivated. She was such a source of inspiration to me; when I recognize a tree, I think of her.
4. Follow your child’s passions and push your own boundaries.
It can be very easy, as an adult and a parent, to fall into the role of “teacher” to young children. They know so little, and you know so much. But consider:
- Human beings of all ages learn and retain more from “hands on” projects. Instead of giving lectures when a child asks about something, try asking them questions. See what they already know; let them try their hand at a good guess. Make it a habit to ask, “What do you think?” See if you can find an activity that will give them their own answers.
- Human beings fully engage when the subject interests them. Take note of the animals, plants, and natural phenomena that fascinate your children, and then follow their lead.
- You may be thoroughly disgusted by bugs, but if your child loves them, try your best to squelch your own distaste. Walking in the rain may be your least favorite, but try to indulge your little one who loves puddle-jumping.
- Be open to new experiences. Our children have so much to share and teach us.
We hope you’ve been enjoying Earth Week here at TMG. Let us know how you are celebrating via comments and our flickr pool. And Happy Earth Day!