Caring for the planet with young children.

In our scraggly patch of concreted garden there are a few pots mainly growing weeds, some sort of cardboard house we made, and - shamefully - our Christmas tree still. But despite it all, as I sit here facing the french doors, I am watching a pigeon, blackbirds and a blue tit swing on our bird feeders and peck around amongst the concrete. I know that should I go out there, I would find wood lice amongst logs and worms underneath plant pots. I can see the first crocus appearing amongst the shingle. Wildlife is still out there.

To me, that is the very beginning of environmentalism for young children. Nature in your own back garden, on your balcony or through your fifth floor window. As she stands at the back door for the tenth time this morning marvelling at the birds eating the seed that she put out there, that is what I so wish to capture and nurture. This awed amazement of all outside: beyond your back door, in your park, in the cracks of the pavement, in the woods…

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For small children, big topics like this are too big, and trying to understand the implications of - say - climate change can be terrifying for little ones. My aim is not to teach environmentalism to a toddler (it’s far too much to be understood at this age anyway). Richard Louv said in Last Child in the Woods, “one of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it”. And to know nature leads to empathy and compassion for our world.

In our home, we focus on setting foundations and a deep love and respect for the outside and its spaces. Environmentalism for young children begins as caring.

Here are some ways of caring for the planet with young children.

  • Spend time outside, a lot of time outside, in every weather. There’s no such thing as bad weather, right?

  • Name everything, from the smallest bug to the biggest tree. And not just “bird” and “tree”, use blue tit, oak, hawthorn, crocus, catkin, conker, acorn, rosehip, crabapple. As Richard Louv said, to name is to know.

  • And if you don’t know what it is, learn it together. Take photos and notes, pull out the books, look it up on youtube. Foster that curiosity together.

  • Model care and compassion. Pick up litter when you see it, do a two minute beach clean, keep your garden tidy, plant helpful plants. Be the change you want to see, and your child will be too.

  • Spend time caring for animals, when its needed. Making bird feeders for your garden or local park, leaving dog food out for hungry hedgehogs, leaving wild spaces in your garden for wildlife are all good ways to nurture compassion within your children.

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  • Record the weather, and speak about what it means. This can begin as a simple description of rain and water, and snowball into discussions of how rain forms as they grow.

  • Fresh flowers, nature collections, leaves and pine cones in baskets to explore are all ways of bringing the outside in. Having little seasonal nods to nature around the home are a beautiful way to remind us of what’s going on outside.

  • And embrace the season. Forage edibe berries and bake with them, go for walks and notice the changes, splash in spring puddles and make snowmen.

  • Have small conversations. What would happen if a duck ate that rubbish that found its way into the pond? Where does the rubbish go that we put in each bin? What is happening to the ice as the world heats up? Small, non-confronting and easy-to-relate-to conversations like this keep childhood safe while also acknowledging the importance of caring for our planet.

I will be releasing the first in my series of seasonal guides next Wednesday, a guide for spring. You can sign up to The Monthly Letter to be one of the first to know when it’s available!