Teaching children the importance of responsible environmentalism

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The various threats facing the natural environment at present are among the biggest challenges that humanity has ever faced, and they’re going to have their biggest impact not on those who are adults today, but on the next generation. This means that it’s more important than ever to ensure that children understand environmental issues and the parts they can play in tackling the problem. Though the issues involved might seem large and complicated, in fact, it’s not difficult for children to understand the value of the environment from an early age. The trick is to begin with the familiar.

Getting close to nature

For young children, every trip to somewhere new is a voyage of discovery. Children are naturally drawn to animals and love to spend time exploring places such as forests. Taking them to visit such places is a great way to start conversations about the environment. Looking at the different ways that animals make their homes and find their food can provide a good introduction to talking about the importance of protecting environmental diversity and the fact that nothing in nature is wasted. Children naturally seek out patterns in the world around them, so they can quickly accept and understand the idea of patterns in nature, such as the food chain and the water cycle. These can provide a good basis for extrapolating beyond what’s immediately visible and helping children see how it fits into a bigger picture.

The local environment

Learning about nature doesn’t have to be confined to special trips. Children can be encouraged to explore the environment around home and school, even if it’s in the middle of a city. Challenges can be set, such as seeing how many different species of birds can be spotted in a day or finding out how many kinds of tree grow nearby. If there’s a garden or even a patch of wasteland nearby, children can explore ways of making it into a better habitat for animals – anything from growing bee-friendly plants to building a birdbox or digging a pond. Local environmental awareness makes it possible to see examples of pollution and environmental damage, providing a starting point for imagining the way that these problems affect the world on a larger scale.

Repair and reuse

When children understand how the natural environment can be damaged, they’re ready to move on to the next stage – learning what can be done about it. A good starting point is talking about the harm caused by waste. Children won’t find it hard to identify examples of litter making a mess, and this provides a simple way to explain why nothing should be carelessly discarded. Techniques such as darning torn clothing and replacing buttons are easy to learn at an early age and provide useful life skills. Older children can take on bigger challenges, such as repairing furniture. They can also be shown how to repurpose items – for example, by turning a broken mug into a pot for holding pens. Though these may seem like small gestures, they help to entrench the idea that waste can be avoided.

Recycling

Once they are familiar with the idea that broken things should be repaired, it’s easy for children to understand the idea of recycling – letting people with special skills and equipment turn items that can’t be reused at home into something useful, and so avoiding waste. Children can be very helpful in sorting out materials to be recycled, and can, if space allows, build a compost heap from organic waste. Many schools also have recycling programs with which their students can get involved.

Career choices

As children get older and start thinking about future careers, the opportunity arises to discuss professional ways of helping the environment. This could include careers in fields such as climate science, animal rescue, or urban planning. Alternatively, it could mean working for a company with strong environmental policies, something that is becoming increasingly commonplace these days. Jai Shroff’s Twitter account illustrates how policies like these can be put into action. Shroff, who has been the CEP of UPL Ltd for nearly a decade, has made environmentalism a priority. By this age, children should be ready to start doing their own research, with a little prompting, into how different companies operate.

Equipping children with the skills to understand and find out more about environmental issues means that they’ll be much better at making sense of a world that will change a lot during their lifetime. They’ll be able to make good decisions that help those around them, contribute to protecting their local areas, and do their bit toward creating a more sustainable world.

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