Simply put, in order to love nature, we need to know it. Giving families both the knowledge and the nudge to explore with confidence is of the utmost importance.
Richard Louv said it best:
"If kids don't have some kind of connection to nature that is hands-on and independent, then they are probably not going to develop the love of nature and vote parks and the preservation of endangered species. Unless you know something, you are unlikely to love it."
Much of environmental education has taken on a museum mentality. It is a composed exhibit where we can look at it and study it, but we cannot actually experience it in a hands-on way. We see the natural world to be too fragile, that we may damage it beyond repair.
Children between the ages of six and twelve have an innate desire to explore outdoors. To build forts, make mud pies, climb trees, catch frogs, rub charcoal on their faces, and get their hands dirty. Each of these activities is a natural way for children to develop environmental awareness, values, and behaviors. Environmental education should always work to connect children with nature and start them on a lifelong journey of loving and protecting the natural world.
We have to make a shift and turn this type of exploration into an integral part of growing up again. Scientists have found that wild nature experiences in childhood correlate with adult environmental values and behavior.
We must remember that children have been playing and working primarily outdoors for tens of thousands of years, however, the last few generations have seen this type of interaction vanish almost entirely. The implications on children and the future of environmentalism is immense.
We believe in nature immersion; after all, we are innately a part of nature itself.
Children are not the problem. They are the solution.
We must work on bridging this gap for children by allowing them to experience nature in a hands-on way while also guiding them through the steps of observation, collection, and research.
"Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or set of abilities. Every child." - Richard Louv
If a child is never able to see the stars in the dark night sky, never has meaningful encounters with other species in the wild, never experiences the richness of our natural world, what will happen to that child?
Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that we are only beginning to understand.
How can you help to bridge this gap?