Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Children to Leave No Trace

My boys ran inside from the backyard the other day asking for safety goggles. Never a good sign! After some investigating, I discovered that they were "taking care" of a tree stump in our backyard. How considerate of them.

This isn't the first time that their natural curiosities have led them into some destructive activity. These boys love to dig holes, flip over logs, and swing big sticks around. They've been known to take out a few small plants and have possibly displaced an ant colony or two.

My goal as a mom is to encourage their natural desire to explore nature while simultaneously teaching them to respect nature. Here are a few simple ways to teach even the youngest child to respect nature:

1. Read Eric Carle's the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Talk about what animals eat. Explain that sometimes animals eat things they should not, like food we leave behind or trash we leave on the ground. When we eat things we shouldn't, we might get a stomach ache or worse.

2. Plant seeds with your child. Plant their favorite color flower or let them pick vegetables to grow. Talk about what plants need to thrive: clean water, sunlight, and healthy soil. Explain that humans can help plants grow by safe guarding these elements.

3. Start a small compost pile. Explain that some things decompose into compost that is nutritious for gardens and plants. Some things cannot go into the compost pile and are not healthy for the soil. It's important to throw trash away because it does not decompose into compost.

4. Visit the zoo. If possible, watch local animals from a safe distance behind a nature shield. Help children to understand that animals will only thrive in their natural environment. It's important to help maintain that habitat to protect animals. As the Girl Scouts say, "take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints."

The more my boys learn about nature, the more amazed they are by the plants and animals they see all around them. They'll still swing sticks at a dead tree stump, but hopefully an ounce of respect will save a few of the plants and animals in their path.

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