Raising Earth Stewards – Teaching Children to Better Their Planet
Hello and Happy Spring! I hope you and your families are able to get outside and enjoy the warming weather and all that the spring season brings.
This year, Earth Day is April 22nd, and there is a growing trend to refer to April as “Earth Month”. I have thought a lot about an Earth Day activity for families to do together; I thought maybe tools to organize a neighborhood cleanup, a guide to recycling, or maybe even simple ways to start a garden. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the best way to celebrate and respect our earth is to work on being good environmental stewards, every day of the year.
In college, I studied Environmental and Outdoor Education and Recreation, also known as EOE. In my classes, we often discussed how to make EOE stick beyond the lesson. I read numerous books and articles, did training on this topic, and could probably talk about it for hours on end. But for the purpose of this post, I want to share some of my biggest takeaways that I think are the most effective in teaching children to take care of the world around them in a holistic and sustainable way.
No trauma before fourth grade.
I know this sounds insane, every teacher, and most parents I’ve told this to are instantly shocked and think this is impossible, but stay with me. I am not telling you to hide things like the death of a family pet, or a tornado from your children. What I am saying is that phycological research has shown us that children do not have the capacity to understand large, complex problems outside of their geographical and conceptual scope. This means that we as adults need to help break problems down into pieces that children understand. Rather than telling children, we are in the middle of a global climate crisis and the planet is going to die if we don’t fix it right now, we need to create a love and respect for the earth in children that will carry them through life.
There are several great ways to do this:
This is so easy! Spend time in nature, make memories below trees, in lakes, at parks. It doesn’t have to be an African safari, time in the backyard or community park is enough to create a love for the outdoors, and when we love something, we take care of it.
Practice basic care for the outdoors and have your children contribute.
Pick up trash you see outside and throw it away. Have your kids help you water plants or grass. Even if you don’t have plants to maintain, they can take a cup outside and water a community tree or plant. Starting these actions early will create good habits that will be automatic to your children.
Have meaningful and positive conversations about the outdoor spaces around you.
When you pick up a piece of trash you can say something like, “Do you want to sleep with this plastic bag in your bed? Neither do squirrels! So we’ll pick it up for them.” Make it a fun game you play.
It can be so easy to want our children to be perfect with things that are simple to us like, turning off the lights, and picking up trash, but try to remember they don’t have much life experience to go off of. When I was 18 I worked at a summer camp for the first time. I had gone to camp for years before this, and considered myself a “green” person. I still will never forget the day a fellow counselor made a comment about picking up trash. She said something along the lines of, “Isn’t it funny how at the end of the day your pockets are filled with the most random things from picking up trash at camp? Look I have a bunch of balloon pieces, a hair tie, and a paperclip.” It was at that moment I realized, oh duh, I don’t need a bag with me to pick up trash, I can just put it in my pocket until I can throw it away. I’m ashamed to say that hadn’t occurred to me until that moment.
Finally, I want to remind you to stay positive. The last thing we want is our kids to think the earth is an irreversible dumpster fire. Keep reminding them to be kind to the world, and don’t get mad when they forget. Studies have shown the more we create positive ideas about the environment in children, the more they will work to protect it.
I highly recommend the book Beyond Ecophobia by David Sorbel. It’s just 61 pages and gives great insight into nature education. I got a lot of information for this post from this book.
About the Author
Willow Huber is an author, creator, teacher, and activist living in Des Moines. With an education in political science and experiential education, she strives to combine these areas to help children and families be their best selves. Helping others become kinder, smarter, and more equitably minded is her goal. More information on Willow can be found on her websites salixkids.com and etsy.com/shop/salixkids