11 August 2008

"I love ants, Mummy, they are our friends!"**

** Fiona to me this morning as we are walking out the front door

I had always hoped my daughter would love the outdoors as much as her parents did. This morning's conversation was yet another affirmation that we are helping to instill in our 3 1/2 year old an appreciation for nature, the environment and animals. This got me to thinking...

Much has been written lately about the disconnect between today's children and their exposure to the natural world. It has even spawned a new type of disorder "Nature Deficit Disorder". In a recent study, it was determined that exposure to the natural world may be as important to children as adequate sleep and nutrition (from Tim Gill in his article, found here.) The National Wildlife Federation says that the research is showing that children with regular exposure to the natural world benefit by being healthier. They state children who regularly spend unstructured time outside:

* Play more creatively
* Have lower stress levels
* Have more active imaginations
* Become fitter and leaner
* Develop stronger immune systems
* Experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD
* Have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment

Do we really need data and research to tell us what we grew up knowing? Well, apparently because enough of the world's children are not getting outdoors! Let's hope you don't fall into this category, but if you do, it's not too late!

So where do you begin? There are endless possibilities and it can all be a bit overwhelming, but remember, every little bit helps, so start small. If you would like to raise a child to appreciate Mother Earth and its inhabitants, consider these simple tips:

1. go on a nature walk - this could be at a park or in your backyard! turn over stones, examine an ant hill, walk outside after a good rain and talk about earthworms!

2. create a garden with your child - examine the life cycle of plants and vegetables while instilling a sense of responsibility (watering, weeding, etc.)

3. don't be afraid to let your child get dirty! - we are obsessed with anti-bacterial soaps and germs these days. Some of the world's healthiest children grow up on farms, getting "stuck in"; so let your child create mud pies and dig in the dirt!

4. allow your child to collect things from nature - as long as it doesn't disturb the natural habitat! In Fiona's room, you'll find an array of downed pine cones, shells from the beach, an abandoned bird nest and on any given day, a vase full of dandelions.

5. celebrate natural "holidays" and mark special occasions with earth friendly gifts - Attend Earth Day or plant a tree on Arbor Day. Participate in your local events or start one yourself! Rather than buying your child another Power Ranger, why not celebrate a birthday by adopting an animal in their name or having a star named after them?

6. make environmentally friendly reading materials part of your child's library The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is no longer the lone beacon for future treehuggers; there are endless books out there with environmentally friendly themes. Visit your local library or bookstore or search Amazon.com's listmainia for suggestions

7. look to earth friendly/animal friendly organizations and websites to help find activities you can share with your child:
National Wildlife Federation combats nature deficient disorder with their 'green hour' activities
The Humane Education site is one of my favourites!
Children of the Earth is a site I just discovered
The National Resources Defense Council has an excellent site just for kids including an online magazine
National Geographic has a special children's section

8. visit nature centers, museums, and those nearby institutions that foster an understanding and appreciation for the environment - We did our homework and learned that our local nature centre, Ijams, has a wonderful series of classes known as "Nature Preschool". Each month there is a theme, such as amphibians. The class teaches the basic characteristics, incorporates an art project and is accompanied by an animal visit or a nature walk. Pictured below is Fiona learning about opossums (notice her tail!) at Ijams. (She loves Ijams so much that when asked where she wanted to have her 3rd birthday, she exclaimed "IJAMS!" She even had frog cupcakes at her request.)

Fiona learning about opossums at Ijams (notice the tail!)

After this morning's conversation with my daughter, I pondered on my way to work, the age old question...how much of Fiona's personality is nature (genetic) vs. nurture (our child-rearing techniques).

In favour of the genetic argument, you have to take into account that Fi's Daddy is an avid scuba diver and loves to be around any body of water - lake, ocean, stream, swimming pool, etc. As for me, I was raised camping in the Grand Tetons, have stomped around the Great Smoky Mountains almost all my life and embrace the title "Treehugger" whole-heartedly. So it could be said that it is "in her blood".

Conversely, there is the nurture side of things... we have worked really hard at exposing Fiona to all things natural. We have a strict "no television" policy during the week and she watches only 1 hour on Saturday and Sunday. As a result, she fills many of her free hours playing outside, going to the park, the mountains, aquariums, visits to the beach, etc. So could it be that simple exposure to the natural world has made Fiona a "treehugger in training"?

In the end, I determined it didn't matter one way or another how our daughter came to love the environment and animals. I am just so fortunate that she did! I will leave you with some of my favourite photos of my daughter out in nature...

Fi giving the butterfly a "drink of water" - Grand Cayman butterfly sanctuary

Visiting a farm in England

    Fi splashing in the stream - Great Smoky Mountains - and offering me some acorns

    And finally...relaxing on a tree with her walking stick


    IHE Staff said...

    What great ideas for inspiring curiosity, critical thinking and reverence for the natural world! Your daughter is very fortunate. I wish I'd had such experiences as a child!

    Thanks so much for mentioning the Institute for Humane Education! We're grateful that you find our resources useful. In case you haven't heard about it, I wanted to mention Above All Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times, a book by IHE's president, Zoe Weil. You might find some additional inspiration there.

    May your enthusiasm and kindness serve as a catalyst for others!

    Jen said...

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I will add yours to my read list as well. It's great to connect with others with the same interests!!

    lu-n-am said...

    i just love your new layout. plus, the pics of fiona+nature are super cute.:)
    <3 ~Am~