We love the fresh air, sunshine and other benefits of nature, but we know it is a fragile system. And a big challenge? Finding ways to pass eco-awareness on to children.
Many of today’s kids are glued to smartphones and game consoles, which makes it tough for parents to engage them in environment-oriented learning. Younger children may find it difficult to wrap their minds around the concept of environment and big words like sustainability.
The secret to surmounting these hurdles is to make it fun -- and the key to that is to provide hands-on experiences. Getting started doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, you can do a lot of this in your own backyard.
Ideas to Inspire
A simple way to begin is to teach children to separate recyclables from other garbage. Explain that reusing materials conserves resources and keeps landfills from overflowing. Likewise, picking up trash from the yard or on walks is a good beginning to discuss the dangers of pollution.
But the learning experience should go much further. Turn the Great Outdoors into a playground – and a laboratory.
Get Kids Outside Whenever Possible
Walks and hikes are an excellent opportunity to teach kids about the world around them. Walks also provide fresh air, sunshine, and exercise – things experts agree are in short supply with today’s kids. The trick for parents is to mix fun with instruction.
Here are some ways to do that:
Go on a safari
You can go on a safari in your backyard or in a park. Instead of searching for lions and bears, look for bees pollinating the flowers and explain how that's vital to the food chain.
All living things require water, so show how it’s collected in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Go a step further and build a rain barrel. Explain how pollution threatens water resources.
Trees and shrubs provide shelter for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife. Tell your little ones how deforestation and misuse of chemicals can destroy beneficial habitats.
Plant a garden
If there’s one thing that might appeal to a kid more than a video game, it’s a chance to play in the dirt. Start with a safety lesson that includes wearing gloves and sunblock.
Gardening can immerse a youngster in an environmental activity from spring to fall. It’s a perfect classroom for demonstrating the cycle of life from seed to table. You can sneak in information on how climate change can have a detrimental effect on food production and the harm some pesticides can cause.
Encourage your children to take part in the entire gardening process. They not only see how nature works, they also learn about personal responsibility when it comes to watering, weeding, and harvesting. Growing plants in a garden themselves might even encourage your kids to eat their vegetables.
Creating a compost pile for the garden is a bonus lesson in how living matter dies, decomposes, and becomes nourishment for another living thing. It’s nature’s perfect lesson in recycling.
Gardening doesn’t have to be limited to the outdoors. Explain to children how many indoor plants remove harmful toxins from the air – in addition to smelling good and bringing a sense of cheer.
Create a Refuge
Kids need to know that not all creatures that trespass into your yard are bad. In fact, most have a positive role in ecological balance. Most yucky spiders and ugly beetles go about the business of ridding your yard of harmful pests. Teach kids how to tell the difference between good and bad critters.
Engage them in creating a wildlife refuge in your yard with feeders, water features, and plants that put out the welcome mat for friendly guests like ladybugs, green lacewings, and, yes – even those creepy praying mantises.
Honeybees have a vital and endangered role in the food chain. Teach kids that having flowers in the yard attracts bees and enables them to go about their important business. Children should know to welcome and respect honeybees – from a respectful distance.
These are just a few simple ideas to get you started. I hope you enjoy these activities with your family.
Todd Michaels is a conservationist with a degree in biology. He writes about eco-friendly landscaping and recycling efforts around the country.
A note from ThinkFun
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