Inspiring Environmental Conservancy: From Newborns to Teenagers
As newborns, both my girls loved being outside. Often, when nothing else would ease their crying, taking a step outside would calm them down. I suspect that it just doesn’t feel right to newborns’ bodies, minds, and spirits to be cooped up inside, surrounded by manufactured objects and artificial lighting, and detached from the rest of nature (for we are, ourselves, nature).
So it is here, with our newborns and infants, that we can begin to influence our next generation to grow up with a strong orientation toward environmental conservation, just by encouraging what comes natural to them: an eagerness to explore and experience the natural world.
Take walks. Bundle them well if it’s a little cold. Take an umbrella if it’s lightly raining. We would stand or sit under a covered porch for downpours.
Let those little feet touch the ground. Touch their sweet face with flowers. Give them space to allow them to reach out to touch the grass and leaves. Even let them grasp rocks, of course being watchful they don’t try to eat them.
When my toddler was an infant I would watch her sit there exploring the area around her. She would gingerly bring grass, leaves, and rocks to her mouth and use her mouth and tongue to taste it and feel the texture. Most often she would just experience it and put it back down, only sometimes did I have to intervene and gently take something from her if she tried to put it directly in her mouth. Side note, she now has an excellent immune system and I personally give credit to her early exposure to dirt.
Toddlers are natural adventurers, making this time perfect for fostering an excitement and fascination with nature. This is quite easy to do with toddler led hikes, visiting duck ponds, taking a trip to a beach, and going to lakes, creeks, and rivers. (I recognize my relative advantage of living in the rural Northwest.)
Kids can be taught the names of places in their own area: i.e. Mt. Hood, Dexter Lake, Rogue River, Skinner’s Butte, pine tree. Can they differentiate between different types of trees? I think it is harder to be dispassionate when you know names and harder to be compassionate when you have the distance of anonymity between you.
Preteens and early teens can be taught how to read topographical maps. If you don’t know how, learn together! Pick a Point A and Point B on the map then let your young trekker lead the way.
Older teens can (can I throw in a ‘should’ here?) be introduced to local controversies regarding the lands around them. Often these are land-use issues. Learn together what the land use proposal is, what it was used for before, who lives there (the people, birds, racoons, bears, etc), how it would effect those who live there, whether there is an indigenous cultural significance to the area, whether indigenous communities are protesting the proposal for any reason. Go to meetings and protests. And importantly, help your teen connect this local issue to larger issues (regional, national, global).
If there is any wiggle room in a highschoolers research or writing assignments, they can use their personal experience with any of the above as content. They can also talk to people and have interview material. Often writing down what was publicly stated by concerned citizens can be a referrable resource. Knowing how to correctly cite your resources is key.
What do you do to encourage your young ones to care about and think critically about land-use issues?
Photo: Tree Kid by Russ (license)