Written by Clare Caro
It’s a bit hard to miss: the media are saying it, the environmentalists and naturalists are saying it, there are campaigns and organisations working hard to get the message out there… our planet Earth is in trouble.
As more and more humans populate the planet, more and more of Earth’s resources are required, more and more of the environment is being stripped, and in turn, more and more waste is created. The waste is poisoning our water, changing our soil, polluting the air all of which impacts through the ecosystem. The list of critically endangered animal and plant species is lengthening, and extinction of animal and plant species has increased so rapidly that we are now living in an age known as the 'sixth mass extinction'. Basically, our Earth’s eco-system is like a game of Jenga, when enough ‘bits' are taken out, the whole thing will fall!
A growing number of environmentalists are already looking to the children because the future is theirs, they are ’the next generation’ who will deal with these issues. As Eldridge Cleaver said, “you either have to be part of the solution or you're going to be part of the problem" which means raising our children to be part of the solution.
What can we do? First we have to give our children time and space outside, lots of it, and if possible right from the start of their life on this planet. For the next generation to even care, they must first spend time out in nature, they have to grow their relationship with the living world in order to become passionate about it. Passionate enough to become the young environmentalists who will take over the reins.
But is getting them outside enough? Today’s environmentalists have pinpointed one crucial element of human nature which aided them in becoming our Earth Guardians of today, curiosity. The hot question on many environmentalists lips is “how do we get children to be curious about nature?" And I can’t help thinking the real question is, how do we stop killing the child’s curiosity in nature? Every child is born curious about the living world, but not every child is born into an environment that supports that curiosity.
It helps to know what we are talking about first. Curiosity is the quality that prompts natural learning. It is in essence, a wondering or a questioning. It is thought that this quality is part of the very 'biological nature' of the child, and from this thirst for curiously-exploring springs knowledge and a passion. Passion and a thirst for knowledge are prime bullet points on any environmentalists CV.
Here are some simple ways to foster our children’s built-in curiosity instead of killing it:
Instead of taking up all the 'air time' by talking, we could stop.
When we stop talking, we make the space for our children to wonder and to be curious out loud.
Instead of naming the treasure she has picked up, we could wait.
When we name the treasure we interrupt the child who is in the middle of wondering, we cut their curiosity short. Knowing the name of something is not nearly as important as experiencing the treasure, as getting to know the treasure. So wait, pop the name in at the end of the exploring.
Instead of hurrying them on, we could slow down to child-pace.
Sure, there are times where we need to get everyone to a certain place at a certain time, though it is possible to make time for slow walks too. Slow walks are made for the curious.
Instead of stopping them from looking or touching things they find interesting, we could stop and reassess. We could reassess the objects that our children show an interest in. We could get curious ourselves and wonder what they see in their treasure. Need a little help on this one? While dog poo is probably not okay to explore curiously, sticks, dirt, sand, leaves, grass clippings, clay, winged seeds, acorns, rocks, insects, slopes, worms, birds nests… are perfect treasures for budding environmentalists. The way in which we react and respond to our child’s chosen treasures can sway our children’s curiosity.
Instead of snatching ‘that thing’ away from your baby’s mouth, we could observe.
Curiosity is the way we gather information from each experience. Your baby is building a full ‘body of knowledge’ for each of the treasures they explore with their fingertips, with the sensitive skin of their face, with the sensory high-way of the lips, the tongue and nose.
Instead of rolling our eyes when they ask "why...", again, we could meet their curiosity with partnership. We could be the partner we would want for ourselves, when we were engrossed in the wonders of the world. Remember, everything is new and wonder-full to babies and children. A true partner listens to us, responds to us authentically, tells us what they know, leaves questions where they don’t - questions you can find answers for together. When we can hear our children and respond to their passionate requests, they see us modelling partnership. Partnership is a two way street.
Here is my challenge to all parents on this planet: take your children outside, stop talking and give them space, come alongside them in partnership, and nurture their curiosity. The Earth they inherit from us is going to need humans who are curious, and who question the things that they consume, throw away, and do. This Earth needs people who will be in partnership with the Earth.
If we choose to pick up on even one or two of the ideas on this list we’ll make a difference, we’ll begin to create the environment for our children’s curiosity to blossom. In turn, the environment will benefit from our children’s curiosity, because partnership is a two way street.