Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Your child’s natural enthusiasm for the environment far outstrips yours – most children aged three and four years pay considerable attention to their surroundings because they have an innate curiosity to learn.
That’s why he digs holes in the garden, looks under stones, asks lots of questions and has an endless desire to explore. So you have a head start when it comes to making your preschooler environmentally aware.
And it’s not just small objects in the environment that grab his interest. He likes to identify shop logos whether on store fronts, carrier bags, or delivery trucks. He might also pay attention to number plates because he recognises the initial of his first name in them.
This fascination with “environmental print” is often the first stage of developing his reading skills and is another sign of his enthusiasm for his surroundings.
The challenge facing you is, first, to maintain your child’s enthusiasm for his environment and, second, to raise his interest a level so that he cares what happens to it. In that way, you’ll change him into Mr Green.
UNDERSTANDING OF RESOURCES
As far as your growing child is concerned, the environment is there because it is there – and he assumes it always will be there, exactly as it is now. Without a clear understanding of limited resources, he takes for granted that when something in the environment disappears (for instance, he pulls a plant from the ground) it will automatically be replaced.
He also assumes that if he has water from the tap, everybody in the world has water from the tap – and that water will always come from there. So your child isn’t bothered, for example, about leaving the tap running, or about dumping his rubbish outside.
You can help him become more environmentally aware by explaining that he should treat his surroundings in the same way that he treats his own possessions. Point out that in the same way he has no more sweets when he finishes the packet, people can run out of water if everybody wastes it. Don’t frighten him, however, into thinking the world is in imminent danger of thirst, starvation and self-destruction.
Aim for him to understand that what he does actually matters – if he uses resources sensibly, that it will make a difference to the environment. Answer all his questions openly and honestly.
You will find that once he grasps this concept, he may become totally focussed on it. He gives you a severe warning every time you throw something out, turn the tap on or drive your car. Four-year-olds can quickly adopt a very strict moral stance!
In addition to extending his understanding of environmental resources, give him a specific project that involves him in a practical way.
For example, he could plant a tree or flowers in your garden; he could play his part in taking household rubbish down to the recycling bin; he could give his old toys to other children instead of throwing them out.
First-hand experience of an action that promotes the environment stimulates his interest further, as well as provides him with a fun-based activity.
You should also consider a field trip, if that is possible in the area where you live. For instance, you could take him to the local woodlands area in order to study the wildlife there. Or you could encourage him to notice the difference between the birds that fly around your house. He loves trips out to parks and greens when they involve the study of animals in their natural surroundings. Stimulating his environmental awareness now could start a process that lasts throughout his life.
(Photo: Danil Chepko/123RF.com)