By Essie Bester
It’s important for children to learn to respect nature and all forms of life as soon as they become aware of the world around them. In this way they learn respect for themselves and for others. It also is the way in which everyone can be assured of a better future. The earth, after all, is the only planet in the galaxy that contains life – there is no other place to run to!
Because children are our future planet managers, it is necessary to imbue them with enthusiasm about the environment, says Mark Tennant, safari guide, TV presenter and nature expert. “It’s far too late to wait until a child reaches school-going age before you want to teach him more about nature. He is already set in his ways and you will struggle to instil a passion for nature in him.”
Children can already be exposed to nature at a very young age by looking at plants and insects in your garden. “The most important thing you should teach your child, is to have respect for all living creatures, however tiny,” says Mark. This is important, as statistics show that 98% of the species that ever existed on our planet, have already been eradicated. On top of this, a recent Living Planet report indicates that wild animals’ numbers are still declining dramatically.
Marlice van Vuuren of the popular KykNET programme Groen: Namibië, says it is necessary that we teach our children to care for nature and animals through good examples and experience. Marlice, a well-known campaigner for conservation, has two children who are just as passionate as she about animals and nature. You should not only teach your child to embrace nature, but to also one day be an adult who respects the environment because he understands what is at stake, she says.
Do it this way:
- Set the example. Children are mimics who imitate everything you say and do. Pick up the trash in your vicinity and in this way teach your child not to litter. Also teach him not to waste water and electricity. With time this will become a way of life. Melize van der Walt of Mokopane says, “I show my children animals that are killed or injured because of pollution so that they can realise how serious it is.” And it is serious indeed – one of the floating mounds of plastic in the ocean, called The North Pacific Garbage Patch, is after all twice the size of Texas, USA.
- Build a bird-house or feeder from empty two-litre cool drink bottles. In this way your children learn that almost everything has a re-use value.
- Give all superfluous stuff, bikes, furniture and clothes to someone who can use them instead of throwing them away.
- Choose to walk instead of drive if in any way possible and in this manner combat climate change.
- Encourage your toddler to play outside. There he can walk on the soft grass with his bare feet, see how a bird flies and feel how the wind blows.
- Make your garden bird-friendly with a bird-bath in a sheltered spot.
- Allow young children to help water the garden. Teach them to plant strawberries or vegetables such as tomatoes. Together observe how they ripen or hunt among the leaves for a ripe strawberry.
- Visit the zoos and game parks in your area and use the opportunity to teach your child more about nature.
- Go camping and connect with nature.
- Send children on a treasure hunt with the instruction to collect specific items. Explain the purpose of each one when they return with their “treasures”. Grass, for example, is used by birds to build their nests. Flowers produce pollen which bees need to make honey. Together look at the shapes of leaves and touch the rough and smooth textures.
- Teach your child how to observe animals and to handle them with care.
- Tell your child about global warming and the importance of trees. Plant a tree together. After all, annually more than 15 milliard trees (equal to approximately 48 rugby fields per minute) are destroyed.
- Together, look under rocks for bugs and count how many different kinds you can see. Observe how worms crawl, grasshoppers hop and bugs roll into balls, without hurting them.
- Together lie on your backs in the garden and watch the clouds. Show your child how clouds gather before a thunderstorm.
- Together walk bare-foot in the water after a rain shower. Smell the rain and listen how the birds rejoice over it. Look for a rainbow.
- Show your child how the swallows gather on the power line in Autumn before taking on the journey to warmer climates. Watch out for their return and tell him it means that summer is here.