Off to the zoo we went today for a day of special activities designed to show the inner workings of the zoo and the secrets of its charges. It reminded me how challenging it is to give young children (those under the age of six) a sense of the need for stewardship of our natural resources without instilling a sense of fear and anxiety. At libraries and book stores, I see so many well intentioned books about environmental damage and animals on the brink of extinction that, to my mind, can only create a sense of anxiety and confusion for young children.
Young children need to be given the sense that the world is there, nature is there, taking care of them. This is not to say that we shouldn't instruct our children in the ways of responsible habits like recycling, caring for animals, both domestic and wild, and purchasing and using less gas and consumer goods. What I am saying is that we should avoid the doomsday-type scenarios. Simple, common sense explanations can accompany instructions concerning the habits we wish our young children to take in. For example, we can our children that we ride our bikes sometimes to avoid making more pollution. Too much pollution can make the world too dirty. We don't have to discuss global warming and its potential dire consequences.
Then, slowly, as children grow older, we can start introducing some of the uglier realities of our world. Animals have gone extinct due to human intervention in the natural world. Natural areas have been damaged to seek our natural resources that we have used. The air is being polluted due to our need for energy. Along with this kind of education should come a discussion of what we can do to clean up our messes and be more responsible as a community in the future.
What we need to start with is love and wonder. Like Thumper felt today as she mooed with the cows and roared at the lions today and as Booster felt as she watched a Burmese python ingest a whole rabbit.