Fostering and Nurturing Sustainable Values from Early Childhood

About the Author

Cheryl Magyar is a sustainable life designer, homesteader, organic gardener and green parent—set about to change the world by living simply in the forested hills of northern Romania.

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She walks barefoot. A pair of white felt wings perched gently upon her back. She is a blossoming soul, without malevolence or a harsh word against nature. In fact, she is intently curious as she holds a walnut to her ear, then a blade of fresh green grass, listening hard and having an unspoken conversation with Mother Earth.

Children who spend meaningful moments in and with nature, from the time before they can crawl, are naturally drawn to it. To the gentle breeze that lures the scent of lilacs closer, to the brash winds that make them scream with glee, to the pouring rain that brings the mud—all weather conditions perfect for playing in.

When we are allowed to touch and experience the diverse textures of our natural environment, we are able to connect in profound ways that help us develop our own roots, reaching further down and deeper still, till we converge with the heart of nature. And it takes these important moments spent in nature to foster and nurture acts of sustainability later in life.

As a child holds a simple, multi-seeded dandelion in her hand, she grasps more than just a weed. A dandelion is foraged medicine in the herbal realm, both the flower and the root containing healing virtues. To a young soul, no matter what their age, a dandelion is a wish— a wish that the flowers will come again this summer, the next year and the year after. It is a smile on their face. It is a dream that everything is right in the world. It is hope in its purest innocence. The dandelion stem is also a horn, a natural noisemaker of sorts, provided you find exactly the right one; the search is half the fun!

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Children who get their hands “dirty” in the garden, will not think of the dirt, but of the soil and the experience of being involved in hands-on work. They will observe: was the soil dry, sticky, wet or cold? Dirt washes off, yet the experience rarely fades, even if it is lost, it is preserved in the subconscious mind. This is an important lesson for us to take into adulthood.

It is okay to be drenched in the summer rain, and it is okay to experience weather that is too hot or temperatures that are far too cold.

To be prepared is key to the enjoyment of any encounter in nature. And it is more than okay to step outside of our consumerist comfort zones and show the youth of today that ecological minimalism matters, and spending less time on digital devices does too.

As we face climate change and its repercussions head on, it is wise to immerse ourselves in nature— to mourn for what we have lost and to restore our love for all the wondrous beauty we have left to preserve. With this venture of fondness, we will become grounded once again, we may even see where our lost intuition has failed us. We have but one Earth, for our own sake and for the future of our children, we must start taking better care of it.

Tell your children why they must refuse plastic straws, either in words or pictures. Show them how prepossessing the environment was before we started creating cheap clutter, over-consuming and throwing objects of un-desire away so quickly.

Read them poems and stories from long ago and notice the prevalence of flowers and birdsong. Then be inspired to go out in it!

Together with your young children, get outside and listen to the evening cricket ballads. In the day, grab a pair of binoculars and identify birds, follow butterflies and draw wildflowers. Get on your hands and knees, search for insects, toads, and anything that moves. Be curious and careful, using your best judgment, just as any animal in nature would take.

It may be the case that we should once again become that wild animal, in mind and spirit, in order to regain a sense of what it means to live a sustainable life. We must not take more than we need, lest we remove the chance of survival for others. We need to change our way of thinking if we are to show respect for all living creatures. Animals have one set of clothes, why do we think we should change and wash ours every day?

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Ask a child what they enjoy most about nature and take note of their unabashed answers. At this moment in time, one may receive answers all across the board. Some kids may even place more priority on technology and screen games— to no fault of theirs, rather to the downfall of ours.

In order to instill a love for the environment in children, we must give them an all-access pass to the outdoors. Let them play, get wet, muddy, with their hands full of clay. At times it may even be necessary to prove our love for a benevolent nature, to lead by example, in exploring sustainable ways of life, play and work here on Earth.

Children follow examples, positive and negative, so let’s all be the sustainable change we want to see in the world. Start young, start now. It is never too late, or too early, to live a sustainable life— much closer to nature than you ever dreamed possible.

Photo Credits: Cheryl Magyar

Additional Reading & Resources

Read more about Cheryl’s sustainably-led life in the forested hills of northern Romania on her blog: Forest Creek Meadows
NATURE SENSE: Tuning into Nature’s Operating Manual
#100HOURSUNPLUGGED: A Challenge to Families to Go Offline and Outside Together
RESPECTING NATURE: How to be a Good Digital Citizen Outdoors
TECHNOLOGY IS IN OUR NATURE: But to Flourish, We Still Need Our Wild Connection
THE REAL NATURE CHANNEL: Time for Kids to Tune In
THE SIRENS OF TECHNOLOGY: Seven Ways Our Gadgets Drive Us Nuts
GOING ON A TECHNO-FAST: Taking a Break from the Virtual World

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