Connecting children to nature

2017-04-19 06:00

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THE environment is one of the most important issues in the 21st Century. Modern society is using up resources faster than the Earth can replace them. Think of water, forests and fishes in the sea.

Modern society produces waste products (pollution) faster that the Earth can break them down. Think of climate change caused by too much carbon dioxide in the air. Think of plastic in the sea, air pollution and dirty rivers.

When we damage the natural environment, life becomes more difficult. Climate change causes droughts and floods. People get sick from dirty water and air pollution. Animals and plants are destroyed forever. We need plants and animals if we want to survive.

Teachers can play a vital role in creating environmental leaders. In South Africa, environmental education is the responsibility of all teachers. It forms part of all subjects. Look at the CAPS and you will find that every subject includes something about the environment - except perhaps maths.

Research tells us how environmental leaders are formed. Most people become environmental leaders because of their childhood experiences. This is why teachers are so important. So what are these experiences?

The most important childhood experiences are:

•Having a good time in a natural area (top of the list). This means playing in a park, or in a river or at the beach or in a garden. It means being outside. It means having fun.

•Having a role model to help the child understand nature. This means a teacher or parent explains and shows plants or animals to the child. It means looking and talking and exploring. Look at this flower, look at this bee. How does the bee pollinate the flower?

• Learning the importance of social justice. Children are influenced by adults who care about other people, who care about fairness and justice. They are influenced by adults who take action. Environmental leaders want a better world for all people and all species.

• Being part of an organisation with activities in nature, for example, scouts or a youth group that goes camping or has outside activities.

• School activities that take action in the environment. This could be studying the water quality of a stream, or a project to create a park or garden or clean up a stream.

How a teacher can become an environmental teacher.

• Become well informed about issues. You can educate yourself about an issue you think is important. Use the internet or newspapers or libraries or do a formal course.

• Work with an environmental organisation, this helps to build your knowledge and build friendships. There are lots of organisations in and around
Pietermaritzburg. Many of them participate in the Happy Earth Festival.

• Be politically active (this is part of working with an environmental organisation). This means standing up for the environment.

• Look after yourself and save your energy. This means planning projects that are small and possible and usually in the place where you live.

Get pupils out of the classroom. Get learners involved in real environmental issues in your area. Look after natural areas so that children have a healthy place to play. Encourage parents to get involved. Work with environmental and community organisations and don’t try to do it alone. - Morag Peden.

Teachers can play a vital role in
creating environmental leaders. In South Africa, environmental
education is the responsibility of all teachers ... Research tells us how environmental leaders are formed. Most people become
environmental leaders because of their childhood experiences. This is why teachers are so
important.

Morag Peden is a retired lecturer in environmental education from the Pietermaritzburg UKZN campus. She will be offering one of 24 activities offered by various environmental education organisations during this week’s Happy Earth Festival to be held on April 20 and 21 at the KZN Botanical Gardens.

The Happy Earth Festival celebrates its fifth birthday where more than 1 400 pupils will participate in hands-on environmental learning that connects them to nature.

For more information, contact the organiser, Dr Friederike Voigt on 082 779 6766 or email happyearthforum@gmail.com

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