Photo: Respect for nature has to start at home

Reconnecting our children with nature in their everyday lives is the first step in an environmental education (Credit: Jayson Lorenzen via Flickr).

By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

One of the refrains I often hear is about how we have to educate our kids in schools to be more environmentally responsible. It's too late for us, they say. Adults are too set in their ways to change. We've got to teach the children!

What a cop-out. So not only are we leaving our children with a legacy of global warming and other environmental challenges, but we'll leave it up to them to fix the problems we created? Sorry, but that's fundamentally unfair. It also sets us all up for failure. Children do what we do, not what we say. If we don't change our ways first, what incentive do children have to behave more responsibly?

This isn't to say that we couldn't be doing a better job with teaching them in school to be more environmentally aware. But doing that isn't just about pointing to things in a book. It's about doing things differently together. It's about changing behaviors.

Even before kids get to the classroom, look at how they get there. Every year it seems there are new alarming statistics about childhood obesity. More and more, we hear about how kids are becoming increasingly housebound and sedentary. Yet we fail to connect these problems with the line-ups of SUVs and minivans several blocks long outside schools every morning and every afternoon.

Chauffeuring our children to and fro not only denies them an opportunity to exercise, pollutes our air and adds to global warming, it further removes them from the natural world. We don't respect things that we don't understand. And it's very hard to understand something without experiencing it.

At the risk of sounding very old fashioned and very old, when I was young I walked to school. When I got older, I rode a bicycle. So did everyone else. It's a great way to get exercise and experience the outdoors. There's nothing like walking to help you get to know your community. And not just the people, but the plants and the trees, the animals, the weather and the seasons.

Reconnecting our children with nature in their everyday lives is the first step in an environmental education. That means getting children outside into the world to experience it first-hand, rather than through TVs, computers or on YouTube.

I'm not saying that there isn't a place for technology to help us understand the world. After all, I've spent 40 years trying to educate people through television. In fact, one of my favourite new tools is an addition to Google Earth called Google Sky. For years, I've been a fan of Google Earth as a tool to help people understand jut how small our world really is and how connected we all are. Google Sky adds a new dimension, as now you can turn the lens around and look at what's out there. It's really an interactive chart of the heavens, the stars and the planets that let's us explore the universe and ultimately better understand our place in it.

But as fascinating as it is, nothing can replace the real experiences we have outdoors, peering through a telescope into the night sky. Or digging in a garden. Or exploring a swamp, a forest or a tide pool. If we want our children to be more environmentally responsible, we have to show them why they should be. We have to emulate the right behaviors and teach them why environmental sustainability is so important.

So yes, this means we need more school-yard gardens, better outdoor education curriculums, more field trips and more sustainable schools. But it also means we need more exercise. More cycling and more plain old walking. We have to get our kids outside more to play and explore the wonders of nature, so that they will come to understand it better.

This isn't just up to kids or teachers. It's up to parents. It's up to school boards. It's up to all of us to ensure that we're not telling our children one thing and doing another. Anything else and we're not just lying to them. We're lying to ourselves.

September 7, 2007

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