There has been recent debate on the best way for parents and educators to teach children about the environment. Many people feel that the environmental information children get on television and in schools is biased either by activists who scare children with "gloom and doom" stories or by companies who are trying to downplay the effects of pollution in our environment. To the average parent, finding accurate, balanced environmental information for children can sometimes be quite a challenge.
While this debate continues, there are some simple ways parents can help children understand the importance of the environment. Petey Giroux is the Project WET program coordinator for the State of Georgia and the former Georgia PTA environmental education chair. She feels that the most important thing you can do to teach your child about the environment is to provide opportunities outdoors.
"In my case, I believe it was the exposure I had to the natural world at a young age," she said. "My family lived in suburbia, but the garden was part of my father's past and was his passion. As a young child I planted seeds, watched plants grow, observed the wildlife that came to nibble, and experienced harvesting corn and tomatoes for dinner. I was making direct connections with the natural world and forming a relationship at a young age."
Petey believes children spend too much time indoors in front of televisions or computers.
"Today our children are growing up with screens that provide their entertainment and they spend very little time outdoors," she said. "When I ask students today where their water comes from, they often say the store or the faucet because they have no connection to the river."
She believes the key to solving many of our environmental problems is to help children experience the earth at an early age.
"It is difficult to pollute or harm what we understand and that with which we have formed a relationship," Petey said.
One of the best ways to teach your children to care about and respect their environment is to be a good role model. If you show enthusiasm and respect for wildlife and nature, your child will follow the lead.
So what can parents do to help educate their children about the environment? Here are some suggestions:
Encourage outdoor learning at home. As a family, plant a garden or a tree and watch it grow. Visit a neighborhood or community garden to learn how other families grow their own vegetables and flowers. Build a birdhouse or bird feeder for your backyard. Have children collect backyard flowers and leaves to create nature bouquets or pressed-flower pictures.
Take a weekend adventure to a state or national park. Go for a hike, take a canoe trip, or visit a state park or nature center. Spend time talking with your children about the plants and animals they see. Have them draw pictures or take photographs of the things they see or experience on your weekend outing. Check out books from your library to read with your children on local plants and animal life.
Take part in community "green" activities. Take part in community recycling programs or volunteer a few hours of family time to help clean up a local park or beach. Work with your PTA to develop outdoor learning centers in your community or on school grounds. You can create a discovery trail, a butterfly garden, a sundial or a weather station.