Parents set ‘green’ example by enjoying natureWritten by Claudia Boyd-Barrett | | email@example.com
When Northwood resident Elizabeth Niederkorn thinks about her childhood, she pictures the long, happy days she spent in her grandparents’ backyard, helping her granddad with the gardening, picking dandelions for her grandma and going for walks along a nearby creek.
Now grown up and with a family of her own, Niederkorn wants her children to develop the same love for nature and the outdoors. When the weather permits, she takes children, Cecil, 3, and Lydia, 1, outside in the garden to play with their toys and read books.
In the backyard, Niederkorn and her husband, Tim, have a vegetable garden where their kids get to plant, weed and water their own crop of tomatoes, lima beans and pumpkins.
“Occasionally, Cecil will step on a plant … and Lydia frequently picks leaves off of the plants that we want to keep,” Niederkorn said. “But to me it’s more important that they’re out there enjoying themselves than that every single plant be completely successful.”
In an age of high-tech toys, computer games and cable TV, Niederkorn is one of many parents who want their children to experience the joy of simply being outside. Along with encouraging a healthy lifestyle, Niederkorn hopes her children will grow up to be environmentally sensitive citizens.
“I think the best stewards for the environment aren’t the kids who are brought up being told, ‘Oh we’re destroying the rainforest. And oh this animal’s endangered’,” Niederkorn said. “That’s all very important stuff, but I think the best stewards are the people who just love to be outside. You protect what you love.”
Heather Norris, who runs environmental education programs for Toledo Area Metroparks, said that many children could benefit from spending more time in nature. She lamented that kids in the schools she and her staff visit often seem to know more about the Amazon rainforests and the Arctic than they do about habitats in Northwest Ohio. This despite the area’s rich variety of rare plant and animal species, including the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly reintroduced to the Oak Openings region in 2007, she said.
Norris said parents can do a lot to get their kids clued into the environment by taking them to nearby parks, going on hikes and pointing out plants, birds and animals to their children. She said it doesn’t matter if parents don’t have much knowledge of the environment themselves.
“Just getting the kids out is very important. Parents don’t have to know what’s the name of that bird or the name of that bug,” Norris said. “Just get them out and inspire and let them learn.”
Norris encouraged parents to enroll their kids in nature-related activities outside of school, including this year’s Metroparks summer camps. The camps offer children the chance to participate in local conservation efforts and learn about the area’s plant and animal species.
“They’ll get out and learn about their environment, that Northwest Ohio has natural areas, but there’s not necessarily lions and tigers and bears,” Norris said. “We may not have a rainforest here, but we have really spectacular and really rare natural areas.”
At the Wildwood Environmental Academy, a public kindergarten through sixth grade school in Maumee, teaching kids about the environment is at the core of the curriculum. School leader, Elizabeth Lewin, also encourages parents to adopt green habits at home.
Among her suggestions are:
- Setting up recycling bins at home and getting kids to decorate them.
- Challenging kids to find products made with recycled materials at the grocery store.
- Getting kids to decorate their own bags to use when shopping.
- Taking walks and bicycle rides.
- Taking an extra bag on walks for picking up litter.
For Jennifer Taggart, author of “The Smart Mamma’s Green Guide” about reducing environmental toxins in the home, teaching children to care about the environment is as important as passing on other values like faith and kindness to others. She said parents can use everyday activities, such as shopping at the farmers market or watching movies like “Wall-E,” to discuss environmental issues with their kids.
Taggart said she tries to use the things her children love to teach them about the environment. With her 4-year-old daughter, she plays “Green Princesses,” making homemade makeup and chap sticks out of natural ingredients to use in dressing up.
Most importantly, Taggart said, parents need to show concern for the environment themselves, turning off lights and computers when they leave a room, recycling and taking their own totes to the grocery store.
“I think you have to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk,” Taggart said. “If you do what you can to be green, your kids are going to learn from that.”