Sunday, September 18, 2011

How to Grow Your Own Environmentalist

Recently, the Nature Conservancy conducted a survey of 602 young people to get their attitudes about the environment. The good news from the survey is that spending time in nature helps encourage kids to want to protect it. The bad news is, they don’t seem to realize that “nature” and the environment start right in their own backyards.

The poll was conducted from July 28 through August 4, and asked kids between the ages of 13 and 18 about their attitudes toward nature, outdoor activity and environmental issues.

Topics included: why kids don’t spend more time in nature, how spending time in nature makes them feel and their attitudes toward preserving nature and the environment.
The data suggests that if American youth are given more opportunities to have a meaningful experience outdoors, they will be more likely to value nature, engage with it, and feel empowered to do something about it.
However, only about 10% of those surveyed say that they spend time outdoors every day.

There was a wide range of reasons kids gave for not spending time outside. Discomfort from heat and bugs were at the top of the list. But many of the other reasons given seem to indicate that kids don’t seem to connect time in their OWN yards and gardens as time spent in nature. 62 percent said they did not have transportation to natural areas !!! 61 percent said there were not natural areas near their homes !!! Others cited fear of crime and other safety issues in nature areas.
Clearly, either those who conducted the survey or the kids themselves don’t realize the incredible opportunity to connect with nature in a green, eco-friendly landscape.

This is especially discouraging because, among the outdoor activities that the kids expressed an interest in, 78% of them said “seeing something beautiful or amazing in nature” which of course, is something that all of them could experience outside in their own eco-friendly yard.

66 percent of those surveyed said that they "have had a personal experience in nature," that made them appreciate it more. Those who DID have such an experience were almost twice as likely to say that they prefer spending time outdoors over being indoors and more than twice as likely to agree that protecting the environment is cool. Clearly, getting kids to see the beautiful and amazing things in nature is key to getting them to care about the environmental issues of our day.

Here is an excerpt from the report, Connecting America’s Youth With Nature:
Kids who have experienced something “beautiful or amazing in nature” are:
  • Almost twice as likely to say they prefer spending time outdoors;
  • Significantly more likely to express concern about water pollution, air pollution, global warming,and the condition of the environment;
  • Ten points more likely to agree that we can solve climate change by acting now;
  • 13 points more likely to say environmental protection should be prioritized over economic growth;
  • More than twice as likely to “strongly agree” that protecting the environment is “cool;”
  • More than twice as likely to consider themselves a “strong environmentalist,” and
  • Substantially more likely to express interest in studying the environment
Other findings of the survey:

• 76% of youth today strongly believe that issues like climate change can be solved if action is taken right now. This means that there is great potential to mobilize members of this generation to get involved and make a difference.

• Nearly three-quarters of youth surveyed associate being in nature with being peaceful, free, calm, and happy. Just being outside can help them to cope with stress and anxiety. This makes for happier kids, and happier parents.

What does this survey mean to us, as green gardeners? It means that we have the opportunity to not only protect the environment NOW, with our own environmental efforts. But we also have the opportunity to help educate the next generation of environmental stewards by taking the time to share our gardens with our own children, our friend's children or children in our neighborhood.

There are many lessons to be learned through green gardening. If kids like to go fishing, you can teach them the importance of preservering and protecting water around the home. If they like birds and hummingbirds, you can teach them why native plants are better at attracting them. If they like butterflies and insects , you can teach them the importance of eliminating chemical pesticides.
The findings of the report definitely show that American youth are concerned about the environment and want it to be protected. In fact, 86 percent go so far as to say that it is “cool” to do things to protect the environment. What they lack are opportunities to engage more meaningfully with nature. The more youth are given the chance to get involved with nature, the more their instinctive concern about the environment can be solidified and cemented into long-term commitment to protecting it.
There are many articles on this blog that contain lessons that can be learned in an eco-friendly garden. Some of them are listed below.

But here are a few ideas that I like to share with the kids that visit my yard and habitat:

1) Have a scavenger hunt in your yard (can also be carried out at a local park): Wake up early and take a quiet walk around your yard with a notebook in hand. Look for at least ten wonderful, curiosities of nature that aren’t easily noticed and make a list of them. Perhaps you will see some caterpillars dining on a host plant or a beautiful spider web stretched across two tree limbs or a tiny little tree frog hidden in the leaves of a flower. Make a list of your finds (but not their locations). Give a copy of the list to each of your children or other participants and have a scavenger hunt in your yard. Whoever finds all the items first wins!

2) Play Got W.O.N.!: Similar to the scavenger hunt above, in this activity, each participant is sent out into the yard to see how many Wonders of Nature (W.O.N) that they can find in an allotted time. At the signal of the timekeeper, each participant heads out looking for wonders. When they find something of interest, they yell “Got W.O.N.”, and the name of the Wonder of Nature that they have discovered. An example would be “Got W.O.N. – Hawk feather!” or “Got W.O.N. – monarch chrysalis.” At the end of the allotted time, the person with the most Wonders is the Winner!

3) Get sensitive: Encourage children to use all of their senses to explore your yard and gardens. Start with eyesight and have each participant mention several things that they see in their surroundings. Then have them close their eyes and mention things that they hear. Do they hear birds, bees, hummingbirds? Next, try smell. If you grow flowers or herbs, be sure and share those wonderful aromas with them. For touch, have them close their eyes and guide them to touch various textures, such as tree bark or grass. Can they guess what they are touching? If you grow your own fruit or vegetables, include whatever is ripe (and clean) in your sensory explorations

4) Be a Detective: Take your digital cameras out into the yard and take photos of as many different plants and critters as you can find. Challenge your kids to use the computer to help ID them.

Whatever you do, however you do it, take the time to notice some of the wonders of your garden each time that you spend time there. Sharing them with others is a great way to help ensure that those wonders will still be there, for generations to come.

More articles of interest:

You May Already Be a Nature Nerd

Every Time You Garden Green a Butterfly Gets Its Wings

Does Eco-Friendly Gardening Help Local Wildlife Populations

Wildlife Moves Me

10 Tips for Creating an Eco-Friendly Landscape

10 Reasons that Eco-Friendly Gardening is Good for Babies

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