Kids and Climate Without Tears
I recently had a parent ask me if she should be doing more to encourage her seven-year-old to become active in the Children’s Climate Crusade. She was caught off-guard, and was perhaps just a bit relieved, by my quick response. “No. In fact, when it comes to the crusade aspect of it, you should probably be doing less.” Given that my passion is inspiring kids to build a happy, lifelong relationship with science and nature, people are sometimes surprised to learn that I don’t want to turn the youngest children in my programs into little climate warriors. Our kids have enough to worry about without adding the climate apocalypse—fires, mudslides, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, and floods—to the list. The very word “crusade” conjures up images of soldiers with shields marching off to battle. I want the children in my programs to fall in love with the natural world, not fall into the fray in its defense.
But doesn’t somebody have to take responsibility for the damage that human activity has inflicted on the planet? Yes. The generations that have caused it. Even in this, I take a “no-shame, no-blame” approach to finding solutions. Guilt is better at inspiring denial than it is at inspiring creative remedies. Most of us have only recently become aware of just how widespread and negative our impact on the environment has been. It may have been the youth movement, kids from middle school on up, that has forced our attention, but it is on us to educate ourselves about climate science, to practice sustainability in our life choices, to research policies that reverse course, to reward the responsible use of resources, and to vote for politicians who share our values. In other words, it’s the grown-ups who should be in charge of waging the climate war.
I mentioned middle-school. This is when boys and girls begin to develop a sense of agency, a feeling that they have a degree of control over outcomes that effect them. Knowing they have the power to do something takes the fear out of environmental engagement, and kids this age become more active in championing the causes close to their hearts. As they move through high school and college, their influence grows along with their levels of sophistication and knowledge. What about the little kids? They should simply fall in love with Mother Nature. As parents we have the fun job of helping them do just that. Get your kids outside. Encourage them to follow honeybees from blossom to blossom. Let them look under rocks, splash in puddles, and float leaves. Hike with them. Lie in the grass and watch the race of clouds with them. Nobody cares about saving something they haven’t first learned to love. It is this love that will provide the foundation on which we’ll build a healthy world.
Sarah Shaffer, award-winning educator, has been offering unique after-school enrichment and outdoor science and nature programs for children, parents, and teachers for over twenty-five years. More information about Sarah’s Science can be found at www.sarahscience.com