As parents, we have a responsibility to train our children to love and protect nature. Let's use the occasion of World Environment Day to begin this.
India is the global host of World Environment Day 2018, which falls on June 5th. The theme is 'Beat Plastic Pollution'. Obviously, a one-day effort will not serve the purpose. It has to be an ongoing, persistent exercise to ensure that the world is safe for future generations. We need to sensitise our children to their responsibilities towards Mother Nature. We need to teach them that to care for nature, we must first love it. Here's how we can instil a love for nature in children -
1. Appreciate nature: Children pick up cues from adults on how to respond to the world around them. Our little ones will absorb our phobias. In order to train our children to love and protect nature, we have to remember not to pass on to them our fear of creatures, big or small. So, when you spot a cockroach, a lizard or spider, swallow that scream. Don't let out even an 'eek'. If you think the creature poses a danger to your child, move him to safety without alarming him.
2. Touch the earth: As parents, it's natural to be protective of your children. But there's a thin line between protectiveness and over-protectiveness. While it's wise to ensure that children are not unnecessarily exposed to infections and germs, it's also wise to ensure that they don't fear engaging with the natural world. Allow children to play in the sand and sit in the grass, get their hands dirty and their feet wet, run through the rain and jump in puddles. Just see that they have a good wash afterwards and get warm and dry. Hands-on contact with nature will forge strong bonds.
3. Look up at the sky: The moon and stars are the subjects of many a song that is sung to children, both in regional languages and in English. As your child grows up hearing these songs and rhymes, she will subconsciously get a sense of the vastness and awesome wonder of the universe, and that mankind is a small but important part of the huge picture.
4. Bond with a pet: If it is practical, adopt a pet. It could be a puppy, a kitten, or even a couple of fish. Involve your child in cleaning, grooming and feeding the pet. Make him conscious that the pet's well-being is important, and that it is a long-term commitment. If having a pet is not an option, you could set up a bird-feeder, or simply put out fresh water during summer, and watch the birds and squirrels quench their thirst. Point out the beautifully-coloured butterflies and observe the discipline of the ants. Your child will quickly get interested in the wonderful variety of natural life.
5. Nurture a nursery: Even in the smallest of apartments it's possible to have a potted plant or two. If you have space for a garden, use it to get your child to connect with plants and trees. Let your little one watch you put in seeds or seedlings. And, you can share with her the thrill of seeing shoots, leaves and flowers. Teach her to water the plants and see that they get enough sunlight and fresh air. Show her how kitchen scraps can be turned into food for plants. At the same time, tell her repeatedly how plastic, aluminium foil and other non-biodegradable material will hurt plants. Minimise use of such materials and take care not to let them get into the soil in your garden or pot.
Biology lessons at school will give your child a basic idea of plant and animal life. Build on this foundation to foster a respect for nature.
6. Walk in the wild: Go on nature treks with your child. Find out where you can see migratory birds. Arrange a camping trip. See if you can join a turtle walk. Visit the zoo. Point out how different species of animals and birds need specific kinds of vegetation and environment to survive and discuss how our encroachment and mindless destruction of these habitats are endangering wildlife.
7. Clean it up: Many cities and towns have eco-groups which organise clean-up campaigns on beaches, lakes, marshes and other public areas. Sign up for one of these as a family. Help your children understand the importance of responsible waste disposal and compare the beauty of the cleaned-up space with the eyesore it was earlier. Train them not to litter. Lead by example.
8. Turn it off: Electricity is a boon, but it puts a heavy load on nature. Discuss what it costs the environment to produce enough power to light up your child's room for a day. Help her understand that conserving energy will help the world as well as her in the long run. Make it a family habit to turn off switches when leaving a room even for a short while.
9. Go green: Organic produce is gaining visibility in India. There are specialty organic stores, and organic sections in supermarkets. Discuss the meaning and importance of organic and sustainable cultivation and harvesting with your child. Let him experience the superior taste of freshly-cooked local produce, as against preserved or junk food.
10. Read and watch: Children are naturally curious and drawn to other living beings. Reinforce this by exposing them to books, movies and television serials that celebrate nature. Jungle Book, Bambi, 101 Dalmatians, Lion King, Happy Feet, Finding Nemo, the list goes on. Snuggle down with your little one and enjoy these and similar all-time favourites. Introduce your primary-schooler to Ruskin Bond's stories, and Gerald Durrell's delightful autobiographical books about nature and wildlife will be a natural step forward from there.
Along with sensitising your children to the marvels of nature, you can inculcate in them the knowledge that as the most powerful inhabitant of Planet Earth, it is man's duty to see that nature is unharmed and allowed to flourish. Gradually, our children will understand that the whole world, with its rivers, seas, mountains, plains, trees and grass, is our home, not just the four walls and immediate periphery of our houses, and that all creatures great and small are a part of God's family. This World Environment Day, let us pledge to make our children fall in love with nature.
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