Teaching Young Children Values:
Respecting the Environment
Teaching respect for nature and the environment is a gradual process, but if you begin early you can help your child learn to make a difference. By teaching appreciation for the environment, you’re also teaching your child to respect nature.
Two and three year olds
Two and three year olds cannot understand abstract thoughts or words, such as ‘nature’ or ‘environment.’ Nor will they have a developed sense of responsibility. At this age, they try to imitate actions or behaviors of those around them.
What you can do
Explain to children of this age that the earth is a home to many people and animals, just like the home you live in. We need to take care of the earth, just the way we need to take care of our home. Encourage children of this age to do specific things, such as turning off the water when they brush their teeth, or putting items in the recycling bin. At this age, you can also help children appreciate nature by taking them to places where they can explore the outdoors, such as a beautiful park, the zoo, nature centers, or a farm. Ask children to be respectful of all creatures, as they all have a place in the environment.
Four and five year olds
Four and five year olds are able to understand more complex concepts than two and three year olds. At this age, their language is developing and they are curious and helpful.
What you can do
There are many things you can do with four and five year olds to help them develop a respect for nature. Trips to nature centers, the zoo, a botanical garden or other outdoor areas are a good way to develop an appreciation for nature. At this age, you can also go for a walk and have children gather things from nature: leaves, rocks, twigs, flowers. Ask children to notice squirrels, birds, or other wildlife and talk about their habitats. If you have a yard, encourage children to plant a seed, water it, and watch it grow. You can also make a bird house or put up a bird feeder. If you live in an apartment, you can plant seeds in a pot on a windowsill. Ask children to conserve the earth by using less water, recycling, and turning off lights.
Six and seven year olds
Six and seven year olds are beginning to develop a social conscience. They like to please, and they strive to be independent. They are beginning to read.
What you can do
This is a great age for children to further develop respect for nature, and to take an active part in conservation. They can recycle and are often creative about ways to conserve if you discuss conservation with them. Encourage walking or biking instead of driving, and use public transportation. You can organize a group to clean up a park, school ground or property. You can also plant a garden if you have the space. If you have a pet, your child can help feed it, or walk it. Children love pets, even goldfish, and caring for a pet teaches them about nature, and also teaches them responsibility. Children at this age are beginning to read, and enjoy picture books dealing with nature. This is an ideal age to teach respect and responsibility for nature.