“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”- David Attenborough 2018.
Whatever your beliefs, you cannot escape the issue of climate change. Scientists all over the world agree that this is the greatest disaster facing life on earth. Our mortgages, bank accounts, university educations and insurance policies will not protect us. Personally I flip between anger and the urge to campaign, and the temptation to bury my feelings with mind numbing distractions. I feel fortunate to have young children and nature in my life – both of which are huge incentives to stay awake and practice resilience to face the future – whatever it might hold.
I often talk to teachers and carers of young children about how to share this most pressing concern with young children. They are not responsible for climate change and yet it is their generation that will deal with the consequences if we cannot find a way to halt global warming and mitigate its effects on their chances of survival.
Whether our children become scientists, philosophers or politicians of the future, is it our job as teachers and carers to raise them with the capacity to respond to these central questions:
- What is it to be human and alive on this planet right now?
- What is needed of us? How can we lead purposeful lives and leave a legacy of more good than harm?
- How do we share our journey with young children with courage and fortitude?
Slowing down and shifting perspective
Our increasingly materialistic, technologically-driven busy-ness gives plenty to distract ourselves and our children from reflecting on these central questions.
But simply stepping outside under the sky, feeling the wind or the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and drawing breath can open up space in my mind to think differently.
Nature is my daily resource and it’s accessible wherever I am to support a shift in perspective when needed. Whether it’s stretching my eyes to change the view, tuning into bird song to shift receptivity, finding a sit spot to calm my mind, or going on a ‘no destination’ mindful walk to order my thoughts.
Nature gives children a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional environment in which to develop physical resilience and lay down the neural pathways for lifelong learning.
Children need time to ‘do nothing’ – to daydream as well as to explore their own ‘unadulterated’ lines of enquiry (or play) without interruptions and timetables getting in the way. We can take our cue from Nature’s rhythms, night and day and the changing seasons and weather. Without electronic white noise, children can experience what quiet feels like and develop their capacity for greater attention. In the absence of bright neon and screen lights they can experience the restfulness of natural light and dark, or the magic of fire light or stars.
Finding the ways to share the hard stuff
When children are very young, we don’t want to overburden them with the troubles of the world. It would be like dumping too much grit on a bed of new seedlings. They need the right amount of water, sunshine and shelter to develop strong roots. But they also do not need to be wrapped in cotton wool. They need gradual exposure with much care, attention and support. Our job is to notice what they need and when.
Outdoors, children will encounter the hard stuff of life – cold, heat, discomfort, impermanence and change, and most likely at some point the death of a bird animal or insect. They will learn through observation, experience and gentle guidance of an adult companion about scarcity and abundance and about impermanence and the joy of sharing and caring.
Responding to children’s questions with honesty and integrity is important. But mostly we need to listen well. We need to listen to what they themselves are expressing through what Magaluzzi calls ‘the 100 of languages of children’, and be prepared to receive what they communicate. They will tell us when they are ready to hear more.
What can we do about it?
It is through our behaviour that children absorb the values of the culture in which they are born. We can show appreciation for the gifts of nature that sustain our lives. We can learn the names of plants and animals; we can explore the properties and gifts of the earth and air around us. We can develop empathy and alleviate suffering through kindness and fairness. Outdoors children recognise their interdependence with plants, animals, minerals and ether. We can grow food with them, we can harvest water, and we can recycle and save energy.
As teachers and carers we are advocates for young children and their future on earth. The way in which we practice this advocacy will vary according to what feels right for each person. Some will campaign for and against policy locally or nationally, others will focus on teaching children, talking to parents and carers. Most importantly we need to keep learning ourselves, and developing our own resilience practice.
And me? What do I do? When I am outdoors I find it easier to let go of overwhelming feelings of fear, loss, grief and suffering. These difficulties don’t go away but somehow the vastness of the sky and the sea, the rootedness of trees shift my perspective. Outside I often feel smaller but also part of something bigger and eternally changing – a universal dance of light, air, space, ether and life! I draw strength from it.
We owe it to ourselves and young children to advocate for sustainable human life on earth however we can.
With thanks and with gratitude to our teachers and companions in life and in work – those that help us find resilience to stand with the challenges that life present us.
Annie Davy was Head of Early Years in Oxfordshire where she led an award-winning service for 12 years and is founder and director of several community-based projects. Annie’s book A Sense of Place publishes on 7th February.
All of the images are credited to Schnell Photography.