Teaching children about the environment can be just as much fun for adults as it is for kids. It gives parents a chance to learn something they may have been interested in or share some of their knowledge. There are a lot of different ways for parents to help their children appreciate the world around them. Many schools incorporate some aspect of environmental awareness in their curriculum, but parents play the most important role in leading their children toward environmental stewardship.
Field trips can be a great way to expose kids to the wonders of the environment firsthand. To get the most out of the excursion, the location and length of a visit should be age-appropriate. Consider taking children to a science museum, particularly one that's geared at least partially toward a child's interest. Here children are allowed to see, touch, and even crawl on or climb through nature exhibits. The Florida Museum of Natural History (www.flmnh.ufl.edu) on the campus of the University of Florida is home to a life-size limestone cave. Children and parents can walk through it, looking at geologic formations and searching for bats and other animals. The museum also has a screened-in Butterfly Rainforest that houses subtropical and tropical trees and plants that support hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Many museums also offer docents who will lead a tour, telling stories and providing information.
Or if you are looking for the real thing, take a trip to a park, experience nature firsthand on a nature walk looking for bugs and other wildlife. Some parks are home to rocks and formations that offer their own learning experience. Some parks regularly offer ranger-led walks, or one can be scheduled ahead of time, that will point out what the park has to offer. What better way to learn about the environment than seeing it firsthand with a professional?
Hands-on activities can really pique a child's interest. Exploring a park can lead to picking up litter and checking for animal footprints as well as discussions on recycling and protecting animal habitats.
Local farms offer another outing. Taking children out to pick local fruit can show them how food is grown and harvested. They will learn what grows in their region with respect to the seasons. Even a trip to the grocery store can be a learning experience if you point out the labels and talk about where the fruits and vegetables were grown.
Some zoos offer children's camps, where kids can be zookeepers for the day and learn about the animals, their environments, and the threats they face. Parents can also take advantage of open houses offered at local animal rehabilitation centers and vet schools to give children a little more insight into the environment.
Reading is a big part of most children's lives, and books and magazines are a good way to interest children in the environment. Books that help nurture naturalists can range from warm and fuzzy stories from authors like Eve Bunting and James Herriot to more informative nature book series such as DK Eyewitness Books, Owlet Books, and Real Kids Real Science Books. Childsake offers lists of environmental and nature books for children, organizing them by category (www.childsake.com). Your local librarian may also have some suggestions.
Magazines introduce kids to environmental topics in quick gulps. Ranger Rick, Kids Discover, and National Geographic Kids give children the opportunity to learn about all different aspects of the natural world around them and ways to take care of it.
The Internet also offers an array of sites that teach environmental lessons. Many state and local regulatory agencies have pages expressly for children. The EPA sponsors the Environmental Kids Club at www.epa.gov. Nonprofit organizations also offer information designed for children. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) created The Green Squad for kids to learn about different ways they might impact or help the environment (www.nrdc.org). Audubon Adventure Kids (www.audubon.org) provides lessons for kids in kindergarten through twelfth grade that can be incorporated into classroom activities.