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How to Teach Children to Respect Nature

By Shelley Frost ; Updated April 18, 2017
Experiencing what nature has to offer helps your child develop respect for plant and animal life.

You teach your child everything from getting dressed to cleaning up after herself, but you also teach her values such as respecting nature. The Sierra Club recommends emphasizing experience over lessons as you teach your kids to appreciate and respect nature. Also keep in mind that the spending time in nature is good for a child's development and can be calming. Whether you live in an urban apartment or on a remote farm, your everyday life presents many opportunities to teach your child respect for all living things.

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Get your child into nature as often as possible. If you live in an urban area, look for parks or other urban green spaces. Plan trips to natural areas, such as forests, beaches, streams and meadows, as well as to wildlife sanctuaries, botanical gardens, butterfly gardens and conservation areas. Sign up for nature activities that provide fun experiences for children. If not within driving distance, plan a vacation that includes opportunities for your child to appreciate nature. Seeing what nature has to offer from a perspective of wonder, helps your child appreciate the environment.

Discuss the impact of human actions on nature. Use real-life examples when possible. If you see someone litter, talk to your child about it. Say, "That garbage seems small, but it can really hurt nature. An animal could get caught in it. If the trash gets into a water source, it can make the water dirty and unsafe for animals that rely on it."

Point out negative actions he takes in nature. If he uproots a patch of wildflowers, let him know that he took away a resource for animals. If he breaks a branch from a tree explain that this injures the tree, making it more vulnerable to disease and pests. Avoid punishing or laying heavy guilt-trips on your child for these actions. Instead treat these as teaching moments, trusting that once your child understands the harm done, he will want to be more conscientious in the future.

Improve the health of the environment with the help of your child. Get her involved in cleaning up the neighborhood with a trash collection project. Volunteer to work in a community garden. Plant your own garden or flowers at home. For example, plant a butterfly garden to provide a habitat for the butterflies in your neighborhood.

Clean up your habits that impact the environment. Practice conservation of water, electricity and fuel. Reduce consumption of products that will end up in the landfill. Make an effort to reuse items or donate them to someone who can use them. Talk to your child about how those actions help nature. Encourage him to participate in the environmentally friendly actions.

Read books with your child that discuss nature. Try informational books like "How to Save the Planet" by Barbara Taylor, "Be a Friend to Trees" by Patricia Lauber and "Where Does the Garbage Go?" by Paul Showers. Any picture book that mentions or shows nature also works for environmental education. Discuss how the characters interact with nature in the book. Ask what might happen if they didn't respect nature.

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About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.

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