Climate change, pollution, deforestation…: news about the environment is rarely good. How, in this context, can we talk to young children about it in order to raise their awareness without frightening them? Specialists share their advice.
“Addressing climate change with the youngest can be complex, because it requires a high degree of abstraction,” says Thomas Berryman, professor of environmental education at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Understanding environmental problems includes notions of time and space. “For children, long time is often counted in sleep and long distances are difficult to understand,” says the expert.
Also, calls for environmental protection can have a dramatic tone that is not appropriate for children. This kind of discourse can even generate “ecophobia”, or “fear of ecology and the natural world,” according to David Sobel, a professor at the Faculty of Pedagogy at Antioch University in the United States.
Stories of natural disasters, air pollution that damages health or endangered animals can make the outside world appear dangerous to children. In addition, putting the burden of environmental protection on the shoulders of toddlers, who have little real contact with nature, can be a source of concern.
“Children are disconnected from the world beyond what they know, while being connected to the world’s endangered animals and ecosystems through electronic media,” says the American researcher in Yes! magazine,”If we ask children prematurely to face problems that are beyond their understanding and control, I think we cut them off from a healthy and strong connection with nature,” he adds.
Rather than sensitizing children through fear and explanations that are incomprehensible to them, Thomas Berryman suggests using positive and accessible language. For example, he suggests that parents mention that the family tries to do things that are “good for nature, because generally speaking, what is good for nature is also good for us. We are also part of nature.”
Composting and gardening are among the daily activities that help strengthen this bond of belonging, says the researcher. “Realizing that our table scraps feed the soil and plants that we will then eat is pretty clear.”
An opinion shared by Michel T. Léger, Professor of Natural Science Didactics at the Université de Moncton, New Brunswick. “Childhood is the period during which the relationship with the environment is most authentic. A child aged 4 to 6 years is instinctively drawn to nature,” explains the expert. He also advises to play on this link by offering children positive activities related to the environment, such as camping, cycling or hiking in the countryside.
Lead by example
Michel T. Léger emphasizes the importance of performing these activities with the family so that environmental values can be developed in children. “It is also by showing him that we ourselves have a healthy relationship with the environment that the child will maintain his natural affinity with it.”
Thus, this expert encourages parents to go to the market with their child and meet farmers to show them that what they eat comes from the land and the community. At the grocery store, he also recommends that parents explain to their toddler that they choose a particular product because it has less plastic packaging or because it is a local product. You don’t have time for that? Ask the babysitter to do this type of activity with them, for example after school. “In this way, we will prepare the child to live in a world where environmental problems will become more complex,” concludes the researcher.