Today, the central day of the 2019 Global Youth Climate Strike, we stand with young people like Greta Thunberg who fight for all of us to listen to scientists and take action, real action, to combat our climate crisis. We are proud and grateful for their voices, their conviction, and their bravery. They deserve our full attention and swift action. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
In the current context of inaction, it can feel overwhelming to balance our need to provide a healthy planet to our kids with what we see happening—actions that defy science and unravel progress made towards saving our planet. And, it can be hard to know how to support young children in this climate crisis context.
Frustrated and uncertain though we may be, parents can help the cause every day. Each night, we all tuck in future protectors of the planet—the next Greta Thunbergs. And, each day, we can make a real impact by nurturing their potential. In lots of little but profound ways, we can help our kids develop a foundation in environmental stewardship, doing our part of growing a generation that will be empowered to fight for their planet.
Research tells us that this is not hard, and we play a key role in making it happen. For example, one study examined the lives of the most famous conservationists of all time. The analysis revealed key, shared patterns in their childhoods. They all: spent considerable time interacting with nature; had an attachment to a familiar, natural place; and benefitted from the modeling and influence of a family member. We can be that family member and provide our kids the same opportunities.
If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it.
— David Sobel
Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.
— Richard Louv
In short, our work is to make sure our kids can fall in love with their planet. All the while, we’ll deepen our love for it too. Now that is a gratifying way to fight for the Earth!
Here are 9 of our favorite, easy ways to get started with kids ages 1-8. For future activists at or under 2 years old, we invite them to join us, but let them explore alongside as they choose. You’re modeling great ways to connect. As a result, your wee ones are connecting as well, whether or not they join in each activity fully:
1. (For us adults) Get inspired by young activists around the globe. Watch Greta Thunberg's recent testimony to US Congress and feel energized by her story and tireless fight to get adults to listen to scientists and take action. Remember that, as parents and teachers of younger children, we have a wonderful chance to teach our young ones to LOVE their planet—the roots of all lifelong stewardship. If we succeed, they'll be ready to follow up and join the young people, like Greta, who are bravely taking charge of this issue and their futures.
2. Find even 10 minutes to be in nature together every day. To us, “nature” is anywhere with earth, sky, and other living things. Get somewhere ten minutes early and hang outside before whatever you are supposed to do begins. Use as many senses as you can to notice and connect to what is around you. Close your eyes, breathe deep and feel the impact.
3. Leave no trace, and share your L-N-T process with kids. When you play, snack or spend time outdoors together, take time at the end to clean up together. As you do, mention that you want to leave the natural space just like you found it—or as close as you can. Kids need to make some impact on natural spaces in order to sense them, know them and fall in love with them. So, don't feel defeated if you can't practice perfect leave-no-trace, but strive for the best you can possibly do, and include children in the process to set up the habit for them.
4. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass, sand or, better yet, a little patch of mud. There’s no better way to feel grounded and close to the Earth. Read more about the many benefits of being barefoot.
5. Focus on the little things. Get down on the ground and look closely at a single square foot of Earth. Marvel at what is growing, crawling and hiding in even the tiniest portion of our planet. To a child, a small scale is accessible and still thrilling (and still can be for us big kids too).
6. Pretend to be some of the animals you see. Scurry like squirrels. Fly like sparrows. Hop like bullfrogs. When children use their imaginations to “become” another creature, they develop lasting empathy and love for that creature—love that can extend to all creatures.
7. Befriend a tree. Trees hold great meaning in human’s lives and give us a sense of place. Find a tree to love in your yard or park. Give it a name based on its best features (We still treasure our “lumpy bumpy tree”). Get to know it as you feel its bark, lay in its shade, and climb on its limbs. Collect its fallen fruits, leaves and sticks, and see what you can make out of them. Thank the tree for the raw materials, as you show her what you’ve made with her loose parts.
8. Party like wild things! Read Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, make your own nature crowns and throw a wild rumpus fit for Max and his friends.
9. Build your gratitude practice. Give thanks or make wishes for the trees, the birds, the water in a pond—whatever your kids notice and treasure about your outdoor space. Genuine gratitude when cultivated over time translates directly into a lifelong calling to protect our planet.