At work and at play | Environmentally-friendly or ecophobia

It is important to teach children about the environment so that they can develop a sense of respect and caring for the natural world during their first few years of life. Their appreciation of its beauty enhances feelings of calm and well-being as well as safety.

Teaching children about the natural world is not just a nice thing to do – it is vital for the future of our children and the future of all life. Children are naturally curious and open to learning about nature, but in an increasingly urban society we often need to consciously create opportunities to help children bond with nature and learn about the environment.

That is why at our preschool, we follow the Montessori principle of creating a beautiful environment for the children, first by using natural materials mostly made of wood and natural colours. We have also brought nature into the preschool by building a chicken coop, housing two rabbits and recently acquiring a big aquarium. The children are also growing herbs and some vegetables, and our walnut tree has just produced kilos and kilos of walnuts that we will harvest, use in baking and freeze for next year.

These days, learning about nature is inextricably tied up with learning about climate change and other environmental problems. Climate change is now the subject of much concern and discussion amongst adults and is often the subject of alarming and catastrophic news reports in the media. These problems are large, complex to understand, and have the potential to stir up strong feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, anger or despair.

I recently came across the word ‘ecophobia’, which is a fear of ecological problems and the natural world: a fear of oil spills, rainforest destruction, whale hunting, acid rain, the ozone hole and Lyme disease, among other things.

If we prematurely ask children to deal with problems beyond their understanding and control, then we cut them off from the possible sources of their potential. Very young children are not able to make sense of the complexity of environmental problems and do not have the emotional or psychological maturity to manage this information.

So let’s be sensitive and sensible when we talk about the environment and make it a fun activity by making it a constant source of wonder, joy and awe. It is an important part of healthy child development as children who are close to nature develop a natural tendency towards discovery and curiosity.