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Teaching our Children that they are PART of Nature, Not Separate From It

Who owns the earth? This is a question for the ages. People fight over invisible property borders all over the world and have done so for thousands of years. Humans assume people own the earth, but somewhat hypocritically, they also call it “Mother Earth”. The earth is our “mother”, yet we see ourselves as better than it. Would you treat your mother the way people often treat the earth!?

No, I’m not suggesting that we all hug it out and eliminate countries and laws and rather tend the earth communally. That would be a nice picture, but I’m a realist!

We do, however, have to start thinking about the “story”, meaning the version of the situation in front of us, that we teach our children about the earth. Ask someone, such as your partner, friend, or your child, “What is nature?” He or she will likely tell you about animals, perhaps trees. I was wiking this week with someone who said, “We saw more nature on our drive than we did on this hike!” I asked, “What do you mean by nature?” The person said, “Like raccoons and deer and cool birds.” I bet you’ll get a similar answer from most children-- and most people in general. Here’s that issue of “plant blindness”, which I wrote about in one of my first posts!

The “story” that we need to teach our children isn’t just about plants, however. It is also about THEM. Our children and all humans are not separate from nature. They are not above nature. They don’t need to go to the forest to look at nature. Humans ARE nature. They are part of it, intertwined so closely by the choices they make. Our simple, everyday decisions can harm or hurt the rest of “nature”. When children see themselves as nature, they can start to see relationships of cause and effect around them—including their own actions and reactions.

I would even venture to say that teaching our children this “story” of the earth-- that they are part of nature and not apart from it-- is critical for our collective survival. We know the earth is in rough shape due to human activity. We can take ownership of the issues ourselves, but our children and their children are going to have to deal with whatever we leave behind. For them to understand their relationship to the earth is part of our BIG job as parents and educators.

But …how? How do we teach our children that they are part of nature?

We start by getting our kids outside! Unplug your electronics and send them outside! We help them open their eyes when they are there. We guide them to see the cycles and the relationships around them. We let them follow animals, dig in the dirt, splash in the puddles, and hug trees. We teach them about human impact. We model earth-friendly decisions.

My long-term goal for this blog is to provide ideas for you to share your love of “nature” with your children. I'm not an expert on nature or a model naturalist, but I'm definitely an enthusiast with lots of ideas. I'm on my own journey with my daughter, and I'm happy to share it with you. My wike baby is so small right now, so sharing my love for the outdoors primarily involves simply bringing her outdoors! I show her things I see outside. We look at interesting plants and follow animals. I let her touch flowers. But when she’s a little older, I’ll be able to do lots of fun outdoor activities and experiments with her. I can’t wait. I can’t wait so much so that I’ll start posting ideas now, even though my own child can’t yet fully participate!

Another “how” is through literature. As an elementary school teacher, I love (I mean, LOVE) children’s books. I have boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of my own children’s books in different rooms of my house. We know reading with your child from birth is a strong indicator of success in school, so my husband and I have been reading with wike baby daily. Her attention span isn’t too long, so we’ve primarily read board books. However, she has sat through some longer books, such as the classic The Giving Tree and a book I recently reviewed titled Flowers are Calling!

Speaking of book reviews, I started a new page on this blog titled BOOKS. When you click the title at the top of the page, you’ll find my recommendations of great nature books to read with your child. I won’t recommend just any book. I’ve already borrowed a dozen from our local library that didn’t make the cut! The books that I recommend will be high quality texts that teach about nature and foster discussion for you and your child at (almost) any age! If you’re really committed, you could even build your own nature library by purchasing those books, and I’ll provide a link to Amazon for each one. Your public library can also be a good friend.

Let’s start with my latest recommendation: Whose Garden Is It? This book touches on our initial question of “Who owns the earth?” It’s particularly perfect if you’re starting a garden with your child or when you’re harvesting from it. In this book by Mary Ann Hoberman, the gardener claims the garden is his, but so does the rabbit, woodchuck, bird, worm, butterfly...even the sun, rain, and seeds! In beautifully written rhyme, each living thing gives his reasons as to why the garden belongs to him. The illustrations by Jane Dyer are vibrant, and beautiful. When you read a book with a child, you’re opening his or her mind to new ideas. This book is a perfect, kid-friendly way to open a discussion about who owns the earth and humankind's roles in nature. I’ve read this book countless times with classrooms full of children, and I can attest to the fact that they will definitely have opinions to share!

Take a look at the BOOKS page on my blog to see more children’s literature recommendations. Feel free to send me your recommendations, as well! And check back for lots of ideas for sharing your love of nature with your child!

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