Can we teach children to protect the environment?
There was much talk at our staff meeting the other day about what it means to embed sustainability in our practice. I saw the similarities to my last blog post about teaching children to have a social conscience. In no way can modelling sustainability and teaching children about recycling etc. be a bad thing. Making these practices part of our everyday lives and routines is probably one of the best ways to encourage children to make these habits part of their lives. Once again however, there is a difference between learning and caring.
It was mentioned that children of two to five years old have the capacity to understand why we should protect the environment and the practices that enable this to take place. I agree that children may be able to gain a certain level of understanding of these concepts. It occurred to me, however, that the long-term commitment of any person to the conservation of the environment is the result of true respect and caring, rather than a sense of guilt or obligation. Children have a natural curiosity about the natural world, but also a natural tendency to accept everything in their world as existing outside of themselves. The concept of themselves as people having an impact on the world is a little abstract for them at this stage.
So how do we foster children's respect and love for the natural world while their lives in cities involve concrete footpaths and trips to the supermarket to buy processed food? Let them play! Our children at work are spending hours playing in the mud, pretending to cook with bark and sand, picking flowers, planting seeds, watering, and digging for worms. They love it. We were always camping, bushwalking and making gardens as children. We always had plants and animals at home. When children develop a deep appreciation and love of nature, its beauty and the gifts it gives to us, they will want to give back. By providing children with these opportunities we'll be creating proactive, responsible adults who will bring our world through the 21st Century.