“Let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it”

It often feels to me like kids would rather watch nature in a film than actually go and experience it. Or to be more precise, they’d rather see a graphic artist’s version of nature on PlayStation than go out and experience the real thing. And even though I was never a tree-hugger, I find that really sad. By not participating in outdoor activities, not only are they missing out on a beautiful and incredibly health-giving part of life, but it doesn’t bode well for their caring for the environment we’re so busy lousing up for them.

I was speaking to a very dear friend a few days ago who has had cancer and recovered. She told me how one of her children had almost distanced herself from her mother as a way to protect herself from her mother’s potential demise. It’s the same with nature and kids. If we keep telling them it’s going away, especially before they’ve had a chance to connect with it, they may choose never to connect.

Child in Nature

If we genuinely want our kids to care about the environment enough to do something about it, then just telling them how we’re flubbing it up and they need to fix it is not going to have an impact. They need to grow up loving it, which means growing up experiencing it. It means actively seeking out outdoor activities for kids. As David Sobel, author of “Beyond Ecophobia” so eloquently put it, “let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”

We also need to take it to their school if the school doesn’t already do it. My kids’ school has a great vegetable garden which I walk around with my daughter every morning before she goes in so that we can see what’s growing and what hasn’t. We haven’t yet taken the extra step of growing our own, but it’s coming.

But expecting and wanting our kids to engage with nature just because we tell them what a beautiful thing it is is clearly not enough. The two constituencies most kids care most about are their friends and their parents. I’m not preaching here, as I’m as guilty as the next geek, but if we’re disengaged, spending all day on the weekend on our blog, Facebook or whatever, then there’s a powerful example being set. How many of us, and I’m throwing my hands up in the air right now, live our adult lives in isolation of nature? Sure, on a holiday, we’ll make sure we go for walks or swims or whatever. But on a day to day? Or even weekend to weekend?

There are so many easy ways to engage even from home. Birdwatching with a birdbath. Creating a simple environment for animals (birds are easiest) to eat, drink and shelter. Collect natural stuff. Combine it with techno-geekery and play digital capture. Check out the Nature and Children Network. Or Richard Luov’s resource guide and at the end of his book, “Last Child in the Woods”. Or check out your local Scouts association. Or just use Google!

Most importantly, in my view we also need to loosen up our own attitudes and take kids out of the cotton wool we wrap them in. A scratch is not going to cause permanent damage. Nor is getting wet in a stream, a puddle or a lake. Sure, make sure they’re safe and be near them if they’re young, but having to wash mud-soaked shirts and shorts is a small price to pay for our kids to get comfortable with the world they’re a part of.

Check out our activities in the nature category to see how we can help our kids rediscover nature in a fun way.

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