Ecological writer Satish Kumar once wrote that unless you love Nature, you cannot help her. In other words, the best time to start to raise little environmentalists is as soon as they can walk and talk. Nobody is suggesting scaring children about climate change and people who hunt animals for fun. But how better a childhood it is, for parents who teach their little ones to marvel at birds flying in the sky and dolphins jumping out of the sea? It’s also far more fun and interesting for a child to be raised this way, then spend their childhood eating Haribos and watching patronising children’s TV. Erin Kenny wrote ‘Children cannot bounce off the walls, if we take away the walls’. And writer Margaret Atwood believes that ‘in spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt’.
Inspiring a child to love the planet does not mean being a party-pooper. It’s interesting to look at the history of one particular role model. Barnse was a popular cartoon in Europe. The ‘world’s strongest bear’ got that way by eating ‘thunderhoney’ prepared by his grandmother (kind of like a bear version of Popeye and his spinach!) The kindest bear in the world then used his strength to help others.
Where this story becomes particularly interesting is that the voice behind the bear was an actor/director who used his talent to instill in children a love of beings. His son then married a classically trained opera singer (who sang at Glyndebourne in Sussex) and was a climate change activist. They have two children – one is Greta Thunberg.
Being raised by a family with a strong love of the planet was obviously key. By a very young age, Greta was organising school demos, which led to her now worldwide status on global warming. And she really knows her stuff (her scientific knowledge is immense and she can wipe the floor with world leaders, when they refute climate change policies, in order to pursue economic growth). She’s even friends with our very own George Monbiot, who is mightily impressed.
Tips for Raising a Little Environmentalist
Teach children about the natural world. Get them outdoors in the open fresh air. Children’s nature campaigner Richard Louv once wrote that the saddest day of his career was when he asked a child where his favourite place was. The child answered ‘Inside – because that’s where all the sockets are’.
Every child needs nature. Not just the ones whose parents appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or set of abilities. Every child. Richard Louv
DOT is a fun magazine for young children, which focuses on the joy of jumping in puddles and learning through play. Aimed at boys and girls age 5 and under, you can find it in libraries and bookshops, or subscribe online.
Teach children about food and where it’s from. A recent survey by the British Nutrition Foundation of over 5000 children found that many think cheese comes from plants, fish-fingers come from chicken and carrots/tomatoes grow underground. 20% of 5-to-7 year olds thought pasta was made of animals. Involve them in the kitchen with safe jobs like peeling fruits (that don’t need knives) or even helping to prepare the table.
Teach children not to throw litter. Most of us as children would get scolded if we dropped any litter on the ground, yet today some parents happily let their sprogs throw fast food wrappers out of car windows. One clever farmer came up with a wonderful idea. If fast food restaurants printed license plate numbers on the receipts, littered food would generate a fine to the person’s home via DVLA – just like with speeding. This would stop them. One shopkeeper fed up of local litter wrote each child’s name in black indelible marker pen before giving them sweets, crisp packets and drinks. It may seem harsh but it worked – litter in her village reduced by almost half.
Teach children that happiness does not come from buying things. In Denmark, there is no celebrity culture. Danish women would admire the beauty of Cheryl Cole, but have no wish to look like her – they are happy as they are. Dutch children (the happiest on earth) grow up in communal ‘living streets’ where it’s safe to cycle to school, there is no homework and good laws means there is plenty of paid time off to raise children in the outdoors (Dutch parents also don’t think there is a paedophile on every corner, they are more interested in teaching their children about the wonders of nature). Despite its reputation of having pot shops on every corner and ropey-looking prostitutes in shop windows – the tolerant attitudes and early sex education means the country has one of the world’s lowest rates of teen pregnancies, abortion and STDs. Dutch children are more interested in the world around them, than ‘taboos’.
Bedtime Stories for Little Environmentalists
These books for little environmentalists, are sure to go down a treat, at bedtime. Educational yet never scary, they are ideal to instil a love of the planet and all creatures. They are also (and this is important) by very good writers and illustrators. There is no point just churning out stories about saving the planet by people who can’t keep a child’s attention.
The Fog is the story of Warble, a small yellow bird who lives on the beautiful island of Icyland, where he pursues his hobby of human-watching. But one day, a deep fog rolls in and obscures his view. The rest of the birds don’t notice. The more the fog is ignored, the more it spreads. When a Red-hooded Spectacled Female appears, Warble discovers that he’s not the only one who notices the fog… Author Kyo Maclear began her career as a writer for adults, but has since won many awards for her children’s books.
The Bear in the Stars is a timely fable on climate change for children. The Great Bar leaves her snowy home in search of food, friends and a new home after she finds the world is growing hotter. But hearts are getting colder..A story of loss, kindness and new beginnings.
Winston of Churchill (on recycled paper) is a story of one polar bear’s fight to stop global warming. This is a really lovely and interesting way to teach your child about climate change and endangered polar bears, which are losing their sea ice, as the planet heats up.
Winston lives in the town of Churchill in Canada. Upset that the humans are not listening, he decides to hold a protest march in his Canada home, using the language of his famous namesake ‘we will fight them on the beaches!’ But his wife gently reminds him that if he wants others to change, he must too – and give up his beloved cigars!
The Curious Garden is a lovely bedtime story of one boy’s quest for a greener world. Starting with the book itself, it’s printed on recycled paper, so that’s tree-friendly already. Set in New York City, the story tells the tale of red-headed Liam (who children can have fun spotting his bright hair through the book), who grows up a grey urban world. But after finding a forgotten garden behind a door to abandoned railroad tracks, he cares for the planets and helps them flourish. Gradually spreading through the city, New York is transformed into a lush, green world. Peter Brown is an award-winning writer of children’s books.