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Photo by R. K. Singam From the Wikimedia Commons.

It is a belief many of us hold dear. That is with respect to how the future is with our children. If we teach them about the importance of environmental protection, they will make the changes needed to ensure a sustainable future. Yes, we have made and continue to make many environmental blunders. And yes, without a doubt, there are many who do not care about these blunders. Or at least enough to do something about it. But the children will be able to fix all of this.

The Source of Frustration

Oh boy. Allow me to take a deep breath. Why, do you ask? Because I must admit this sort of thinking has been anathema to me for a long time. The environmental problems we are facing must be addressed now. If we wait for our children to become involved, it will likely be too late. Precious species and ecosystems will be permanently lost; people will suffer from often environmentally-linked health issues like cancer and asthma; and the climate may be irrevocably damaged as a result of global climate change.

Based on such thinking, surely the solution lies in targeting those who are making the critical decisions affecting our environment today. By that I mean the adults, or, from a child’s (by which I also mean a youth’s) perspective, the “grown ups.” Amongst them are the businesspeople, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the leaders, the volunteers, who carry much of the power to guide us towards making more environmentally-responsible choices.

But does focusing on such individuals really hold the solution? Should we really channel all of our efforts towards them, at the expense of children? Well, a few years later and hopefully somewhat wiser, I have rethought my position.

The Importance of Environmental Education

For one thing, children have tremendous power to affect change by their own actions. An example that comes to mind which is relevant to Ontario is “Reduce the Juice”, a youth-led climate change organization. In Waterloo, they held a number of great events aimed at educating the public and themselves on how to conserve and use renewable energy. Additionally, for Earth Day in Waterloo Region, students from both elementary and high schools have participated in a wide range of activities including garbage pick-up, planting and caring for trees, and conserving energy.

An additional matter is the ability of children to influence their parents. For this reason, David Suzuki regrets not focusing on educating children 20 years ago when he started his foundation. As he said recently on The Hour, “We still don’t have time for them [the children] to grow up. But [for] all of the young people, the two most important people on the planet are your moms and dads.” And they say to their moms, “I’m really worried” and to their dads, “What are you doing for me?”

There is yet another reason why we should educate our children about the environment. That has to do with the resiliency of the earth. Yes, we may foolishly wreak environmental havoc, and yes we need to take steps to stop this, but the earth has shown that it can repair itself (at least to a certain extent) if given sufficient opportunity. Examples are the improvements to the ozone layer and the recovery of species like the Bald Eagle. Rather than throwing our hands up in despair, we need to look towards the future to find ways to mend it. And teaching our children to value the environment and how to care for it is an important part of the solution.

Putting these Ideas into Action

That just about summarizes my thoughts on environmental education. Except with regard to how exactly we can achieve this. Fortunately, a wealth of information exists on how to include the environment in a school curriculum. A brief exploration of my public library produced a number of reference books. (Some books I found that seemed particularly useful were True Green Kids by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin, and As If Earth Matters by Thom Henley and Kenny Peavy.) A search on the Internet with the terms “environmental education for kids” also yields a plethora of information (including Kids for Saving Earth and EcoKids, both of which provide resources for teachers).

Also, with many universities offering degrees in environmental studies and Queen’s even having an Outdoor and Experiential Education program, there should be no shortage of people able to teach children about the environment (although, sadly, environmental studies does not qualify as a ‘teachable’ in teacher’s college, a situation that administrators would be wise to reconsider.)

Of course, from personal experience, I would say that all the teaching in the world about the environment will do little without enabling children to come into contact with nature firsthand. Only then can they develop a true understanding of the importance of protecting our “wild” spaces. This will require protecting our greenspaces (particularly those in urban spaces where children have less access to such areas), funding outdoor education programs like those associated with the Laurel Creek Nature Centre, and providing them with opportunities to join groups like the Waterloo Scout Group (which, by the way, is open to both girls and boys).


So. Environmental education for children. Is it important? Most definitely. Do we have the resources to rise to the challenge? Absolutely. Should we rely solely on children to do all the work for us? Not at all. But that doesn’t mean they should be left out of the equation. As for the time to act, as they say, no time is like the present. So let’s get going!

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