Looking back at the breadth of our ancestral human experience we can see that a life without direct and daily experience with the natural world is a remarkably new phenomenon. Our biology expects to be a part of the natural world. Time spent in Nature makes children happier, healthier, and smarter, partly by meeting their biological expectations.
Our alienation as modern people from Nature has proven to have devastating effects, as evidenced by massive soil loss, pollution of our waters, air, and food, and climatic disturbances, among a host of problems. Research has shown that those who have an early and intimate relationship with Nature tend to act to protect and care for Earth. In other words, we protect what we love.
In the hope that they will ignite a sense of urgency and commitment to protecting the Earth, well intentioned environmental education programs often focus on environmental problems. This approach often results in unintended consequences, turning children away from problems much too big and frightening for them, leaving them with a lingering sense of fear and foreboding towards Nature. As David Sobel says in his valuable work, Beyond Ecophobia, "If we prematurely ask children to deal with problems beyond their understanding and control, then I think we cut them off from the possible sources of their strength."
Some environmental education programs focus on facts. Giving children information about the world they live in the belief that understanding will be the catalyst for a protective impulse. Such programs have the ability to fall flat with all children, but particularly with young ones. This approach leaves little room for love to grow. We just don't build relationships with facts.
If we want our children to have the courage, creativity, wisdom, and care for the planet that will most certainly be required of them, we must give them the opportunity to fall in love with Nature before we ask them to save it. We must give them ample time and opportunity to touch, taste, hear, observe, manipulate, climb, and imbue all the world around them with their imaginations. We must allow for the conditions in which intimacy can grow and genuine relationships can be built. It's as simple as building friendships or family and requires the same conditions, time, love, joy, and direct engagement.
~ Lia Grippo