- Richard Louv, 'The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder'
Today in my Kindergarten 1 classroom we celebrated Earth Day, just as we are sure to do every year. This year though, we did things a little bit differently.
Reflecting on my experiences of elementary school Earth Days past, I wanted a new approach. One that was more meaningful and with possibilities for long-term impact for my group of young learners.
Young children are not typically in a position to follow through on significant ideas for action about the environment. This includes big things like forest protection, but also smaller scale things like family recycling practices. Children can of course have opinions, a voice and influence, but generally they are not the ultimate decision makers in their households. As early years teachers then, we have a responsibility to emphasize what they are in control of. And from my perspective, this is a social and emotional connection to nature.
Today, rather than spending a heap of time on big ideas like forest and ocean protection, Earth Day pledges or other typical Earth Day activities, we spent time truly engaging with the Earth through nature. And quite serendipitously and organically my students actually emerged with their own project! All year long my students have been fascinated with and committed to collecting different leaves for our nature table. Today, starting with the idea from one child that we needed to give something back to the trees, the children spent the day collecting leaves, painting them, and creating a garland to hang near our school's big banyan tree "so he can see it and know that we love him". We went on a nature walk, collected and talked about all the beautiful nature things the Earth gives us and played...which of course is always an essential element for learning in the early years.
After a beautiful day spent with children and nature I am fully convinced that this is the most significant way we can approach Earth Day celebrations in early childhood. Like Richard Louv explains: "Encouraging personal reconnection does not mean less engagement with global environmental issues; it means more".
Put quite simply: more time in and with nature, means more love for nature. And this is the exact social and emotional connection that needs to be in place for a lifetime of environmental action. For now though, while they are still young, let's keep the experience active and playful.