Creating Earthly Connections
How outdoor play inspires kids to care about the planet
When news of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico broke, my daughters heard it first at school. They came home very upset and with some difficult questions for me to answer: How could this happen? Who will save the animals? and What can we do?
This last question surprised me. After all, they were only nine and six years old at the time. The other questions were unanswerable: We didn’t know right away, and still don’t really know, the full impact of the disaster. But as far as what we could do, well, we went online and made a donation to National Wildlife Federation. That made us all feel better, even though we knew this problem wouldn’t be fully resolved in months, or even years.
It also made me proud.
Let me be honest here: I am not the “queen of green.” While I separate my trash from recycling, turn off lights when I am leaving a room, and no longer buy bottled water, there are many moms way ahead of me in modeling environmental conservation for their kids. I don’t compost or have solar panels but, still, I am raising some pretty green girls.
I’m convinced my kids’ motivation to act in the face of environmental disaster can be directly correlated to the personal connection they feel to nature and the outdoors. By connecting our kids with nature, my husband and I are instilling them with reverence and wonder for the planet. Studies of environmental stewardship bear this out: Children who spend time outside are more likely to care deeply about the planet as adults.
Making sure your kids are getting enough time outside is such an important and rewarding thing to do, and it’s so easy to get started. Just ask your kids to look down and look up.
Look Down: Note the ground beneath your feet; feel your connection to it. What kinds of creatures live under foot? What are their lives like? How do the plants that grow interact with the animals, do they provide shelter? Food?
Look Up: Really see the sky above. Contemplate the shapes of the clouds, describe the perfect shade of blue, watch as storm clouds gather, and notice the wind on your skin. Star gaze and keep track of the cycles of the moon.
Once you start letting some fresh air into your life, you’ll see the change in your kids -- not in the future but in real time, in real life. They will start to lead you further down the path of conservation, because they‘ll be looking to you as an example. And once you lay the groundwork (and sky-work) to help them feel connected to the planet, they’ll begin to inspire you in their devotion to protect it.
The other day our family was sightseeing in Annapolis, Maryland, after a big summer rain. As the weather cleared, we looked up to find not just a single, but a double rainbow stretching in an arc above the horizon. The colors were distinct, bright, and luminous, and the kids couldn’t take their eyes off them. But I looked around, and what I saw was very interesting: Family after family, going about their afternoons, completely oblivious to the miracle overhead.
Don’t let the wonders of the planet go unnoticed by your kids or yourself. They might not be here forever. When you “stop and smell the roses” with your kids, you help ensure”the roses” will be there for your grandkids and their grandkids.
Alyson Weinberg is a Washington DC-based writer specializing in issues concerning children and families. An award-winning communications strategist, speech writer, and feature writer, she is the former editor of
Spirit, the magazine of the Special Olympics movement. Alyson's articles and editorials have appeared in national print media, textbooks, and on the Web. She and her husband, Josh, enjoy the outdoors with their two daughters, Josie, 10, and Raina, 6.
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