THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD
Little children love nature. A child thinks a cockroach is beautiful until an adult says otherwise. In the eyes of the child, the whole world is beautiful. They enjoy exploring everything around them from mud to steel to glue. They love experimenting. They observe everything around them. “Catch them young” is a phrase that is often used and we can inculcate green habits in children when they are young at the pre-school level.
On this Earth Day (April 23rd) let us see how to raise environmentally conscious children so that we can pass the baton to them full of hope so they can carry it forward with ease.
Children have keen eyes, and ears, and are excellent behavioral sponges. So we must practice what we preach. It is an organizational culture issue and change needs to start from the leader or the proverbial horse’ mouth. So when we tell them, say, for the earth to be greener we should avoid using plastic bags, we should first have a habit of carrying cloth bags with us when we go shopping.
We should tell them the importance of saving energy. Switching off appliances, lights, and fans when not in use is the beginning. You tell them twice and the third time they will be the ones reminding you. The best way to teach them the importance of nature is to spend time with them on it. Take long walks, plant and tend to plants, feed birds, go camping, visit waterfalls and dams and reserves, and give them ample time to observe a bug or plant. In this stage, the children start asking why and how questions. Try explaining it to them and if you are not sure of the answer tell them that we can look it up together. And don’t forget to do it later in the day.
Teach them the 5 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore and Replenish.
Reduce – During meal times, teach them to plate only how much they can eat. Food waste is the biggest waste around the world. In India, around 67 million tonnes of food is wasted every year. That is nearly one-third of the food produced in India. Take the children to a farm and show them how much effort goes into producing food grains or wheat by the farmer which is the main staple food in India. Take them to a flour mill and a bakery to show how the food gets processed. When they see they know the value of food supplies, beyond the packaging and make their own decisions by assigning value to human and nature’s effort, and themselves start to not waste food.
Reuse- When toys are broken don’t encourage them to throw them away. Help them fix it with glue or help them use the broken toy in a project for school. When they are bored with the toy help them donate the toy to the underprivileged. The same applies to clothes. Encourage the use of a cousin’s clothes and avoid spending money on new clothes. It teaches them to be down-to-earth and also helps save money for the household and their friends or family.
Recycle- When the school year gets over, there are many unused pages in the notebook. Help your child create a journal or a scrapbook using the empty pages. They can use it as a diary or use it as a creative book. You can teach kids about biodegradable waste and non-biodegradable waste and how to sort them.
Restore- Create a bag, doll, pillow, blanket, quilt, or face masks, from the un-reusable clothes, your child has outgrown and that has worn out. It is a lovely keepsake and will make your child feel secure too. It also teaches them upcycling and not to use and throw things away. Also, old clothes can be cut and used for wiping tables, windows and cleaning grime.
Replenish- If there is one single moral of the story in the COVID-19 related lockdown, it is the fact that we can live without the consumerism that in turn resulted in the excessive depletion of natural resources. The majority of the countries use more resources than they can afford to. Global warming, climate change, landfills, waste sinks in the ocean, pollution-related health problems, and depleting the ozone layer are all major concerns in the world that affect human survival on the planet.
Replenishing the Earth is the only way forward. Involve children in planting a tree, make a bird feeder, segregate wastes, and set an example by using energy efficiently. Take a walk, or a ride on your bicycle, and help children develop a sense of sensitivity, and consciousness, to the environment. You can try to maintain a diary of carbon credits for every act of good thus giving immediate positive reinforcement as the positive impact on nature may not be immediately visible in the real environment.
As an end note, an important point is to teach and rotate responsibilities of the above ‘R’s, equally amongst all members of the household, especially, if there is more than one child in the house, so that it is not seen as a responsibility of only one sibling that can have a negative behavioral impact when the child grows up.
As Lady Bird Johnson says “Where flowers bloom so does hope”. Learning and training our children to go green is our only hope to salvaging our future, and by inculcating a culture of net contribution to nature, we also build character to face the world’s natural calamities & pandemics, that are now more often than usual. It requires a little bit by each guardian and each child, to feel proud to call this third rock from the sun our home.