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Environmental Education & Children

Environmental Education & children

By Marion Ebster


Where, when and how do you start “environmental education” with your children? One answer could be: Here, now and just go outside! If you are a resident of an alpine country and additionally live on the countryside this is very easy. Nature is just across your doorstep. But the best thing is – and that`s true for everywhere – nature also is the best teacher you will be able to find. If you allow it to be so. 

We want our children to get the best start in life and this contains the practice of knowledge transfer from parent to child from the first moment. Unfortunately, parents often – without knowing it and of course with the best intentions – hamper their children’s huge hunger for knowledge of their surroundings and of nature. 

Coyote Teaching

I started to realise this when I did a training as “nature and wilderness guide” and got to know a different form of education and teaching. It is called “Coyote Teaching” and is based on how indigenous people teach their little ones and make them familiar with nature. One of the rules is: don`t give an exact answer – if you feel inclined to even give one! This of course relates to questions your child asks when in nature such as: “Why can birds fly?”, “Why is snow white and not purple?”, “Why can fish breathe under water?”  Our reflex as people educated in schools and universities tells us to give immediate answers in order to “educate” our children. However, what happens if you tell your child such things as: “You know, dear, birds have wings with feathers and have a very clever way of moving them so they can fly”? It is not very inspiring and doesn`t really nudge children`s natural thirst for finding their own answers. Instead, you could tell them: “That is a huge mystery I always tried to solve! What do you think?” Or: “Let`s go find a feather and find out!” Already in the process of looking for a feather your child is prone to learn a few things about nature, different birds and bird language. It is not about explaining, it is about asking and letting them find their own answers and finding out if they are suitable and if not – finding new ones.

CIPRA International

At CIPRA International we have a different approach and our target group aren`t children – but their parents (and future parents as there is also a lot of work with young people involved). We deal with issues such as climate change, sustainability, tourism, biodiversity, social innovations in the Alpine Space. We also do a lot of communication and political lobbying on those issues. On our interactive map, for example, you find information on different alpine landscapes and inspiring projects and other activities on climate and on mobility in the Alps. CIPRA has offices in every alpine country and the seat of CIPRA International is in Liechtenstein. Our work consists mainly of sitting in front of a laptop, participating in meetings, writing mails, drafting and developing projects, networking and the like. But, every one of us has a certain relationship with nature and the alpine landscape especially, be it as a mountaineer and climber, as a cook that uses wild alpine herbs and plants, as a shepherdess, as a hobby ornithologist, as a gardener, a cyclist or as outdoor guide. All of this has to do with going outside and experiencing alpine nature with all your senses.

Your childhood dreams

When I was a child one of my biggest dreams was to become a nature conservationist. For hours, I could read the stories of Greenpeace activists putting themselves into danger hindering tankers from dumping poison into the ocean or listening to whale songs while lying in the bathtub. Finally, I am something like a nature conservationist, without the dangerous part though, and sometimes it is exciting and sometimes, well, it is just a job. But the drive that lies behind it stems from my childhood. It is the stories of the boat called Rainbow Warrior and the heroes and heroines on it but even more so it is the freedom I enjoyed while finding my own answers in nature, alone or together with my friends. It is the enigmatic answers my granddad gave me in order to find my own and the subsequent time spent in the woods and fields of my village.

In this respect, I recommend finding answers on environmental questions on your own; maybe on our website or somewhere else (we have a big network and a lot of recommendations to give you!). But what is even more important: let your children find their own answers. 

Tell stories, give riddles, go through guide books with them, play games, listen to birds together, sing songs, follow animal tracks and let them get dirty. That is probably the best environmental education that`s there.

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