By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Ask any kid what they do in their free time and the answer will likely include watching TV and playing video games. Indeed, children ages 8-18 watch an average of almost 4 hours of TV or movies a day – with an additional 2 hours playing video games! Don’t get me wrong – not all aspects of Generation M, or the “Internet Generation” are bad. But, spending 6+ hours inside (in addition to school) a day is most certainly contributing to what Richard Louv has termed Nature-deficit Disorder.
One of the symptoms of Nature-deficit Disorder is a lack of understanding of the earth, and our relationship with it – including the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the weather we experience, the things we buy, and the final resting place for our trash. This disconnect to nature could be detrimental to the future of the environment, and thus humans. That is precisely why, as parents and educators, it is important to teach our children about the world in which we live – so they will grow up with an appreciation for our planet, and treat it with the respect it both deserves and requires.
As parents, it is simple: The more environmentally aware you are, the more environmentally aware your children will be. When your children are young, read them books such as The Lorax, by Dr Seuss; The Waterhole, and Uno’s Garden, by Graeme Base; or Where the Forest Meets the Sea, by Jeannie Baker. In addition, talk about where the food on your dinner plate comes from – where was it grown? What did it go through to end up on your table? Better yet, take a family trip to a farm – watch cows being milked and wheat being harvested. Does your family eat a mostly vegetarian diet and you want to include your kids in the kitchen? If so, then check out the book Kids Can Cook. Enjoy a spring day – go peach picking! Get dirty together in the garden; go to Earth Day events, which have lots of fun stuff for kids; and instill good habits such as turning out the lights, using less water, buying local and organic food and products, reusing containers and grocery bags, recycling, and composting. An added bonus to most of these activities is spending more time with your children! Don’t fret if your kids are glued to the computer screen. Embrace Generation M by showing your kids a fun environmental website, like the EPA climate change site, Tiki the Penguin, or the Composting for Kids slideshow, set up by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Click here for more ways to talk to your kids about climate change.
For another 6 hours of the day, kids are in school, where they are undeniably influenced by their teachers. The public school system is a large institution, and can be a great channel for change. Below are just a few samples of the many programs you can recommend to schools in your district.
- Watt Watchers: From El Paso Texas, Watt Watchers is a program designed for K-12 classrooms. It gives the students the job of “patrolling” the halls and classrooms. When they find the lights on in an empty classroom, they leave a ticket for the guilty party. It is fun, and I’ve been told it really gets the kids excited about energy efficiency. Teachers can also find curriculum supplements and other activity ideas on the website. According to Watt Watchers, as of 2008, more than teachers in over 645 school districts have participated in their innovative programs. Check out their website, or call 1-888-US WATTS for more information.
- The Texas Energy Conservation Office (SECO) offers “Energy Education,” which is a curriculum supplement for secondary school science students. Their website offers lesson plans and activities for students to participate in, and includes subjects from alternative fuels, to energy efficiency, to global climate change. In addition their own curriculum, SECO offers numerous links to organizations that provide environmental and energy efficiency related educational material and activities.
- From Vermont, The HOP Program – Help Our Planet – is an innovative way to inspire individuals and schools to improve the environmental health of their communities, thus leading to a healthier planet. HOP focuses on simple environmentally friendly tasks that individuals commit to one-by-one. Once a certain task – say, unplugging your appliances when not in use – becomes habit, HOP asks participants to welcome another climate friendly activity into their daily lives. And the march goes on. The HOP Teacher Handbook offers programs for individuals, for classes, and for school-wide projects. HOP goes beyond environmental curriculum to include projects such as setting up a system to collect and recycle electronic items, growing organic lettuce in the classroom, cleaning up the school grounds, or starting a compost pile in the cafeteria. Unlike many other programs for schools, HOP also works to connect students with their communities.
The three examples above are just a taste of the available resources for environmental education – and the more we ask for it, the more responsive teachers, schools, and boards of education will become.
One of the most important things we can do for future generations is to remind our kids how precious the planet is – and how much we depend on it for virtually every activity in our lives (including the minerals necessary for surfing the web and playing video games). By becoming environmentally aware parents and educators, we have the power to truly change the world and ensure a livable planet for generations to come!
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