Children today spend the majority of their time in front of electronic gadgets and a lot less engaged with the nature surrounding them. They are more interested in the virtual world than the real world. A good part of their day is spent in academics and related activities and the rest they are interested in browsing the social media or playing video games. Getting them interested in nature and making them aware of the necessity of conserving the earth as it is, is really a challenge.
It’s true that with the expanding urban space, they get few opportunities to experience nature. Whatever remaining free space and fields we have are converted to manicured lawns surrounded by concrete roads. A well-laid-out garden that offers no natural space for children to arouse their curiosity to explore nature. It’s not only the first-hand experience of getting out in nature that the young generation misses, but also their likelihood of respecting and caring for nature.
What can we, as adults, do to instill a love of nature in the future generation?
If you suddenly yank a child out of his favorite couch and the television and tell him to go out and play, the first thing you will experience will be resistance. I have heard many parents comment that they use television or computer or other electronic gadgets to occupy their children especially when they are busy with their work. I can’t blame them because we can’t spend our whole time with our kids. Nor can everybody feel safe in allowing their children to play outdoors without supervision. But whatever time they are spending outside they should relish and be aware of their surroundings.
Introducing the kids to programs like Animal Planet or National Geographic is a good idea. Don’t force them to watch only these programs. Slowly make them include such programs in their sceen time schedule. A friend of mine told me that they have all the Friday nights scheduled only for nature-related programs or movies. Many movies will generate curiosity and wonder in children about nature. After watching “A Bug’s Life”, my daughter told me she had never thought ants were so intelligent and interesting. It made her read more about ants and their activities.
I can think of a few other activities that we can do from our homes to make kids cherish nature. All the children irrespective of their age come home with some assignments on conservation. We might have offered our help also to complete their assignments.
Gardening is another method to encourage children to cherish nature. If not a big garden, at least get them an indoor plant to take care of and nourish. My daughter has a succulent in her room. She has named it Feynman after her favorite scientist Richard Feynman. She never forgets to water it or get it sunshine. Caring for plants also makes them responsible. They learn that if they don’t properly care for their plant, it will die. If you have the space and time, try introducing vegetable gardening to your children. Get them involved in planting the seeds or saplings, taking care of them, and harvesting the fruits or vegetables when they are ready. Aquaponics is also a good method of gardening to introduce to your children.
Having a pet at home and entrusting the children with the responsibility of taking care of it is a sure method to develop empathy and love towards animals. The pet can be a dog, a cat, a bird, a hamster, or even a fish. Those pets which need to be exercised will give the children plenty of outdoor activities. Grooming them, feeding them, and caring for them will teach them to take responsibility. Pets provide them with comfort and companionship. It also helps families to come together and bond with each other. Most importantly it teaches children about the cycle of life.
We all know the advantage of walking as a form of exercise – but walking on a treadmill alone is not the fun that it will be when you walk outdoors with your kids. Instead of relying on a treadmill, why not schedule a walk outside with your children. It will make them active, enjoy the open air, and encourage them to be curious about the things in the surroundings. Let them enjoy the trees and the shrubs and the flowers and the birds and the butterflies. You can teach them all you know about the nature surrounding you. You can prompt them to appreciate the beauty of nature’s creations.
Why not ask them to collect skeletons of different dried leaves?
Or ask them to pick flowers to make a garland or crown?
Or simply try to identify shapes in the clouds?
Most kids are attracted to birds because of their color and their chirping. Bird watching is a good exercise to invoke interest in children about nature. For one thing, you cannot sit in front of a screen and watch birds. You have to get out in nature to do so. The children get to learn to identify different species of birds, their calls, and their habitat. This learning will eventually make them understand and respect the symbiotic relationship we have with nature. Moreover, it will encourage them to protect their habitats.
Visit to sanctuaries and wildlife parks is another activity to develop an interest in nature. Most children are excited to see animals and birds in their natural habitat. Parents can help them learn in detail about the animals they come across.
Generating interest in our fellow creatures will teach them the great lesson that our earth is not our exclusive home but theirs too. It will teach them how our lifestyle can actually bring harm to these animals. How human encroachment and deforestation are depriving animals of their homes and is a reason behind animal-human conflict? How plastic littering leads to the cause of death of many animals when they accidentally consume it. How the air and water pollution leads to the destruction of animals and birds. Or in other words, understanding more about the creatures who co-exist with them on their planet earth will make them responsible and answerable in their actions.
But these activities are not enough. We also have to encourage them to practice conservation. Tell them the importance of conserving water. Insist on them switching off a light when they leave a room. So it’s not always necessary to get out in nature and get your hands dirty to make children care for nature.
To teach any child the importance of cherishing nature, it has to start with the parent. It is the parent who should learn to respect and care for our nature first. If we start practicing, our children will naturally learn from us.