Creating a Naturalist

by Melissa Harding

Do you have fond, childhood memories of being outside – perhaps going hiking on family vacation, riding bikes in the driveway with friends or fishing with a grandparent? If you are an adult with a strong environmental ethic, than you probably do; most adults who hold pro-environmental attitudes can often trace the origin of these beliefs back to childhood experiences. Studies investigating the source of adult attitudes towards the environment have found that having positive outdoor experiences with a trusted caregiver – a family member, a teacher or a parent – play the most important role in the formation of a conservation mindset (Chawla, 2009).

Not only are these outdoor memories important, but so is the aspect of mentoring that goes along with them. When adults identify critical figures in their childhood that influenced their current environmental values, they mention family members most often. They also cite that these values were conveyed indirectly rather than through direct teaching, such as through showing appreciation for nature, demonstrating acts of environmental stewardship and expressing delight in simply being outside. Some specific examples from participants include raising frogs, identifying plants and animals, fishing and berry-picking with parents and caregivers (Chawla, 2007). There is also evidence that outdoor experiences with friends, as well as teachers, are highly influential (Chawla, 2009). Overall, a child’s environmental values are formed by the child’s character, his response to the natural world and the influence of others.

For parents and other caregivers, this is another affirmation of the influence that you wield in the formation of your child’s attitudes. While this is a large responsibility, it doesn’t need to be scary. There are many different ways to give your child positive, memorable experiences that will last a lifetime. In fact, you are probably already doing it. Camping trips, bike riding in the park and pulling weeds in the garden all count.

If this is new to you, start simply; a trip to the park, putting up a bird feeder or caring for a houseplant are easy ways to share the natural world with your child. As mentioned here, going outside is a great first step; there is no need to go further than your backyard to observe nature at work. Don’t know much about plants or animals? Learning together with your child is a powerful experience to share rather than a deficit you need to overcome.

Here are some resources and ideas to help you make the most of your time outside:

Nature Rocks: Find local natural areas, get ideas for fun outdoor activities and connect to other nature lovers
Children and Nature Natural Families Network: Learn how to start a nature club for kids and connect to other parents
Richard Louv’s Resource Supplement to Last Child in the Woods: Outdoor activities, book suggestions and helpful links
Simple Kids: Simple activity ideas to help your child explore the natural world
Home Connections: Try some of our ideas to combine outdoor exploration with fun activities

This blog wants to help you get excited about shaping a new generation of conservationists. Not only will going outside together create an adult who loves the natural world, but it will also increase the already awesome bond that you share with your child.

Don’t wait; head outside today!

For further reading, here are the sources used in this post:
Chawla, L. (2009). Participation  as capacity-building for active citizenship. Les Ateliers de l’ Ethique, Spring issue.
Chawla, L. (2009). Growing up Green: Becoming an agent of care for the natural world. Journal of Developmental Processes. (4)1
Chawla, L. (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170.

What is you and your child’s favorite activity to do together? Share it in the comments below!

The above images were taken by Christie Lawry, Amanda Joy and Melissa Harding.

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