In the modern world, consumers are moving towards eco-consciousness, governments emphasise policies for environmental conservation, and businesses focus on design principles that discourage waste. Sustainability has become the new buzzword, and education systems are finding ways that can nurture environmentally conscious citizens.
Parents and teachers often wonder about the right age to introduce children to this complex topic. Children can be introduced to sustainability at an early age by familiarising them with the concept of symbiotic relationships. Modern-day lessons on the environment often misinterpret the relationship between human beings and nature. Phrases such as ‘Us protecting the planet’ or ‘Trees are important because they give us shade, water, fruits’ places humans in a position of power.
In contrast to the current language of teaching, we must tell children about coexistence ‘Trees help us grow by giving us shade, fruits, and oxygen. But we should only use what we need because the tree does not belong to us but to the Earth. They are living beings too and we all must share the earth’s resources judiciously so that they benefit all’. This allows the child to develop a positive relationship with nature.
Conventional education marginalises the topic of sustainability when compared to traditional subjects like Mathematics and Science. However, by introducing children to nature, you are also preparing the child for concepts used in higher education such as circular design and bio-mimicry, both highly coveted professions of tomorrow.
Introducing age-appropriate concepts of sustainability
Cooperation and symbiosis
Illustrations of symbiosis are abundant in the natural world. By using stories and role plays, you can demonstrate relationships where both organisms benefit. You can further elucidate by using simple examples that showcase how organisms benefit from the other without harm to either. For instance, you can talk about a flower and a bee where the bee takes nectar from the flower and the flower uses the bee for pollination.
Circularity and natural cycles
Circular design creates processes, business models, and products that generate no waste. Presently, most business models are built to be linear; this means that you buy a product with an intention to use and discard. However, a circular model focuses on regeneration and eradication of waste.
Examples from nature can be used to explain the topic of circularity. In nature, everything is circular. For example water evaporates from the surface of water bodies in the form of steam and eventually condenses to come back in the form of water. This demonstrates the circularity in nature beautifully.
Balance and food chain
Many people look at predators hunting their prey and think of it as nature’s cruelty; however, that is nature’s way of balancing itself. The food chain helps to maintain natural balance and harmony. Similarly, you can explain to a child that having balance in one’s life is critical for physical and mental health. For example, too much screen time and too little outdoor play lead to an imbalance which can be harmful to our health and such bad habits should be eliminated from our lives.
Just a few years ago, the world’s work culture was extremely focused on competitiveness. However, today, businesses speak a different language. Knowledge sharing and collaboration have become extremely important for businesses to survive an thrive. This concept of collaboration and sharing can be taught through examples in nature. For example, we can talk about the pride of lions or herd of elephants where they work together towards a common goal.
Collaboration and formation of herds
Using these approaches, one can create a beautifully integrated learning approach that blends subjects such as science, math, languages, and history through the common lens of the environment.
Introducing sustainability by focusing on the problems and showing disturbing images is the wrong approach. The most important thing to remember is to stay focused on solutions and introduce sustainability with positivity. Children have immense optimism and a certain naiveté that often helps to find solutions of which adults are incapable. Hence, involve children in the conversations of sustainability and let them explore these concepts on their own.