"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

-Rachel Carson, naturalist and author

Trusting that all life is connected gives our children meaning in a complex and confusing world. It grounds them when they feel tossed and battered by external events. A marvelous and available way to educate children to the purposes of living things is to expose them to nature. Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, is a wonderful occasion to begin.

Children come to us with their senses already turned on. They explore a caterpillar by touching it gently against their cheek, trying to find its eyes, sniffing it to see if it has a smell. All we need to do is expose them to more of the great outdoors and encourage their exploration and "at-oneness" with living creatures. It all sounds great, but it's not that simple. As children's days become full of plans, classes, school, and friendships, they slowly drift away from their rich relationship with nature. I was approached during the break of a recent talk I gave by a mother of three who yearned for her kids to maintain their connection with the natural world. She said, "I always took my kids to the playground, on hikes in the woods, or just outside to play with the dog. Now there is no time for them to be outdoors unless it's in organized sports."

Here are some ways to reinforce children's connections to nature and the earth:

  • Create your own Earth Day ritual. You and your child might write a letter to Mother Earth, pledging to do one special activity to help her. If possible, use the back of a piece of abandoned birch bark or on recycled newsprint. Take a hike together and find a place in nature that feels powerful for you, then pause and write your letter there.

  • Establish an "I discovered" event that honors a new nature discovery made by your child. It can be spotting a bee hive, a bird's nest, a special constellation, a flower growing in an odd spot, a wonderfully shaped tree branch, a snake skin that's been shed. Create a drawing of the sighting, and display it proudly on your refrigerator until the next sighting. Then paste into a scrapbook.

  • Start an under-the-sink earthworm farm to compost kitchen waste. It's not hard to do, and it creates great compost for plants. It's also a wonderful science fair project and a way of seeing these creatures as helpful rather than yucky. A mother shared the following story about her 5-year-old daughter: "Jessie has always loved worms. She would bring used coffee grounds outside and dump them in the soil where 'a worm family could use them.' She even gave them names and would rescue them when she found them on sidewalks." For worm-container basics, click on this compost resource site.

  • Plant a tree to replenish the earth. I recently visited a huge weeping willow my brother had planted 30 years ago at our old home. I recalled every detail of that long-ago day and felt a strong connection with the graceful beauty of that tree. If tree planting isn't feasible where you live, consider donating to a tree-planting organization. Plant-It 2000 is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to planting, maintaining, and protecting as many indigenous trees as possible worldwide. Find out more at www.Plantit2000.com.

    Nature restores our sense of peace and allows us to feel life touching us--it soothes and nourishes our spirits and sometimes frightens us with its power. We make this gift available to our children as we teach them to become respectful of the earth, to walk with awareness, to recycle, and to leave no destructive record of their visit. The natural world is our perpetual, yet ever-changing link with the universe. God, nature, and child all share the same space, connected in the powerful web of life. All parts of the web have importance and purpose. Celebrate Earth Day as an opportunity to become reacquainted with our glorious Mother Earth. You and your child will be blessed by the effort.
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