Making Earth Day Count: Fun and Healthy Ways to Encourage Nature Appreciation
Earth Day was founded in 1970 as a day of education about environmental issues. Earth Day 2019 occurs on Monday, April 22. The holiday is now a global celebration that is sometimes extended into Earth Week, a full seven days of events focused on green living.
Ok, so, what is green living?
Green living is a lifestyle that attempts to bring balance between working with nature instead of against it (that can eventually be sustained in the long term). The best way to achieve this goal is to begin with baby steps and to feel comfortable with where you are at. This takes time and that’s ok!
How do I teach this to young children?
Teaching nature appreciation and conservation to the next generation is important as attitudes about the earth and environments begin at an early age. Helping to create awareness when children are young will lead them to be proactive adults concerned about the welfare of their environment and the world they live in. After all, it will be the next generation’s responsibility to make important decisions about our planet in the future. Scary? Nope! Our responsibilities lie with helping children develop positive attitudes towards conservation and nature.
That being said, children’s thoughts and communications are primarily egocentric. Egocentrism refers to the child's inability to see a situation from another person's point of view. According to well-known child theorist, Jean Piaget, the egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does. Don’t worry, this is a typical part of their development. However, when they begin to think about the nature around them through conversations and observations, it helps to broaden their horizons to other possibilities and perspectives.
Here are just two ways to start the process:
1. Get outside!
2. Eat local!
Getting Outside on a Regular Basis
Did you know that just being outside for 20 minutes can boost your energy levels, help prevent nearsightedness, boost your immune system, enhance creativity, restore your focus, among many other benefits?!
Providing children with the opportunity to explore the environment around them helps create an appreciation for nature and gives you the chance to re-connect in a positive way.
Plan a time to take a walk. Talk about what you may find. Be prepared. Take two bags and some gloves. One bag can be used for collecting natural items. The other bag and gloves will be used for collecting litter. Make observations about the trash you collect. Does it look old and weathered or newly deposited? Is it decomposing or just breaking into smaller pieces? Use this opportunity to discuss how litter isn’t just unsightly, it also hurts the earth, plants, and animals. Come up with ideas to help keep your environment cleaner.
When purchasing fresh food, consider buying products that were grown in the nearby vicinity. Food grown locally is fresh and seasonal. Many small-scale farmers have environmental goals similar to those of organic farmers, but may not have the budget to pay for organic certification. And because local farming is close, you, the consumers also have the opportunity to ask farmers about their agricultural practices. Local farmers encourage questions and enjoy forming relationships with their customers! This will allow you to help your community's economy and will help reduce the environmental costs associated with food miles. Win! Win!
Go to a “pick-your-own" farm. Allowing children to pick their own produce at a farm is an incredible hands on learning opportunity and a great way to get their bodies moving. Learning that apples grow on trees or that blueberries grow on bushes by seeing the trees and bushes first hand is very impactful.
Eating locally can lead to more discussions about where food comes from and encourages a healthy relationship with fruits and vegetables. Generating positive talk about food will provide children greater understanding and confidence to make healthy choices that will benefit them in the long run. Way to go!
Loria, K. (2018). Being outside can improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure — here are 12 science-backed reasons to spend more time outdoors. Business Insider.
McLeod, S. (2018). The preoperational stage of cognitive development. Simple Psychology.
The definition of green living (and green washing). (n.d.). Sustainable Baby Steps.