Raising Environmentally Conscious Kids – Respect Nature

As parents, we painstakingly educate our children. We teach them our faith, about money, about sex, about kindness and compassion, we educate them on the ills of drugs and alcohol.  We spend hours upon hours with them on the road, learning how to drive, we introduce them to all our passions, we teach them how to cook, how to properly greet and shake hands with new acquaintances. We teach then to love and respect their neighbor…do we stop and think about the benefits of teaching them to Respect Nature?

Our kids are a reflection of who we are as parents. If our kids are nice, kind, respectful people, it’s because we expect them to be.  If they are rude, obnoxious and braggadocious, well, that’s who we have raised them to be. It’s not pretty, it’s probably not PC, but it’s truth.

So, if your kids go off and light an entire forest on fire, like in the Columbia River Gorge, it’s most likely because you epically failed at teaching them respect, or even common sense, but they definitely didn’t learn to Respect Nature.

Teaching our Kids to Respect Nature.
The saddest thing … a once breathtakingly beautiful place, up in flames. Photo: KATU.com

We simply cannot separate ourselves from our children. Unless there are serious underlying issues at play, you are responsible for how your children behave. Now, I’m not talking about judging the adorable toddlers in the grocery store flipping out, or siblings tearing each other limb to limb, these things are literally expected.  How you deal with them, as a parent, will reflect greatly on who your children are as adults.  

I’m one of those who believes that In all things, experience over lectures is the best way to ensure everyone fully comprehends the depth of what we are teaching. That’s why we are doing what we are doing. Everyone knows you can go to college after high school, but does everyone know you can build a business while traveling the world? Instead of TELLING our kids their options, we are showing them.

In addition, traveling gives our kids a worldly view of other cultures’ preservation, sustainability and environmental concerns!

Which brings us to nature and our environment and being stewards of this great earth.  Something, I would dare to reckon, most city kids don’t know a thing about.

Now, before you jump down my throat, I was a city girl. My friends used to throw trash out their windows. I had no clue, not an inkling, that people bought special shoes and hiked into the woods. I experienced camping once and a raccoon stole a donut from my tent and I was done, never to return, until I met Dan.

I was different, though, from most of my friends. I’d like to attribute it to my faith. I was VERY nature conscious. I hated to see perfectly healthy trees cut down, I hated hunting (I still do, Bambi ruined me), But once I met Dan and started doing all these amazing outdoor activities, like hiking and climbing and camping, I couldn’t stand to see litter. I wanted the outdoors to be pristine! Despite where I lived and what we did for fun, I had learned to Respect Nature.

And, we should all want the same!  

Teaching our kids to respect nature should be incredibly fun and easy, yet so many people simply just don’t care. I’ve been told many NW schools teach this, but do they put it into practice?  Do parents actually reinforce this at home? In light of the disaster that is the Columbia Gorge fire, I think it’s extremely important to talk about this.

Particularly because, in this instance, you had a bunch of teenagers, completely unsupervised who were apparently not mature enough to be out hiking on their own.   

My first question when I hear about kids being involved in disasters is, “Where were their parents?” Maybe I’m in the minority, but I don’t send my 15 year old off with a ton of other 15 year olds, mostly because I know they are … dumb.

I don’t think my 15 year old would throw a firecracker into a gorge, he’s way to smart and respectful to do that, but he’d scale some cliff face that I’d never let him do without the proper gear.

I don’t let my 15 year old decide what river he’s going to run. He’s a daredevil, he’s confident, he doesn’t think about the possible consequences. He comes to his dad, or me, and asks. We decide.

Now, I’m not a perfect parent, and I’m not trying to say I am. So don’t go there. What I am saying is if you are not a present parent, you suck.

Teaching kids requires involvement. We need to be present in order to teach.

The good news is that teaching kids to respect and appreciate nature should be a win/win. Getting our kids outside is healthy, calming, and invigorating. It also offers the opportunity for them to see everything in its natural habitat, which gives them perspective and, as a result, a deep seated desire to save the environment.

When you are out in nature, there are acceptable “rules” that most of us adhere too. Like, not biking on dirt trails after rain. Or, picking up after yourself, leaving no trace. And, fire bans!

Now I’m not a ruled oriented person. Let me just put it out there that I believe rules were made to be broken.  I’m incidentally not the best rule follower on the planet. In fact, I personally tend to despise man made rules.  One of my biggest pet peeves is being told what to do.  

Typically this is because the rules make no sense, like not ending a sentence with a preposition or the fact that you can’t buy a Big Gulp in NYC or that Jay Walking is against the law!  

But I understand that some rules are necessary.  Like laws against drinking and driving, you know, not stealing, assaulting or murdering someone — these are essential to a peaceful nation, they affect the quality of life of those around us,  I get these rules.  

Keeping nature pristine, being nature’s keeper is also a rule we all understand.  While they might be wild, crazy kids, they do have a deep seated respect for the great outdoors.  

Having been raised in the Catholic faith and virtually living in the outdoors, they love, literally love, every aspect of creation.  The mountains, the rivers, the oceans and lakes, and the absolute last thing any one of them would do is to destroy such beauty.

Destruction comes in many forms, from littering to careless usage and I believe respect for nature is something you only really get if you are out there, engaged in all it’s beauty.

Our children are our future. it’s our responsibility to teach them about nature and how to preserve it.  

Here are three of the best ways to ensure your child enjoys nature and is invested in preserving it for the next generation…

Respect For Human Life

Teaching Respect for Nature at a Farmers Market.
Respect for Nature comes in all forms! Photo: Susie Kellogg

Respect for human life means respecting all of God’s creation.  We, as environmentalists must engage with our environment, our natural resources, our open spaces and our State and National Parks.  We should be teaching our kids that it is their responsibility to ensure that they live sustainably so that there are enough resources for everyone.

This may entail teaching your kids to conserve water, turning off the faucet while they brush their teeth, or wash dishes.  It may even mean you teach your children about eating local, organic foods.  We travel full-time and have made it a habit to visit farmer’s markets, not only is the produce way way better tasting, it’s also so much healthier – Farm to Table!  And, we are supporting the local guys, something we try our hardest to do in all our shopping needs.

Also, in the past three years, we have started feeding our family foods closer to nature.  Whole foods, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.  When they start to see the connection between themselves and their health,, the food they eat and nature, they have an A-ha moment!

Respect For Animal Life

Respecting Nature means respecting animal life!
Love for animals and their environment is vital to learning to respect nature! Photo: Susie Kellogg

Take a nature walk, camp in your backyard, or better yet, get out into the national forest or BLM and check out the wildlife.  Every living thing has a purpose and meaning.  I hate bugs, but they all have a purpose.

Start a garden, teach your kids about earthworms and the benefits they have on the soil.  Teach them about squirrels and bears and foxes and all the different birds in your area.  Build a birdhouse, plant roses (hummingbirds love them), on hikes point out berries and other sources of food for wildlife, plant a butterfly garden … whatever, teaching your children to respect and care for wildlife is a great stepping stone for teaching them to respect the habitat in which they live!

Respect for the Environment

Keeping our earth clean is vital to learning to Respect Nature.
Keep our planet clean for generations to come! Photo: Susie Kellogg

Teaching children to respect the environment begins in the very early years of their lives.  They learn through actual life experiences, such as hiking, climbing, rafting, etc.  These experiences play a critical role in shaping their views and their perspectives on the natural environment.  When a child is raised believing the forests and rivers, cliffs and canyons are theirs, their level of responsibility increases.

I can tell you camping and hiking, climbing, and rafting, kayaking and SUP’ing (Stand Up Paddleboard) has had a profound effect on my children.  They take Leave No Trace to the next level and always leave their areas cleaner than they were before we arrived.  If we park our RV on the side of a river, or even on a road, we pick up the trash that was there before we arrived.

It’s virtually impossible to develop a respect for something that you don’t understand or a love for something you don’t utilize.  Get your kids outside on hikes, get them on your rivers, and teach them a love for their environment that you can’t comprehend from a book.

And then make them activists.  Clean up your yard, your neighborhood. Participate in river clean-ups, go for a hike with the goal being to fill up a bag of trash. There are so many ways to get involved and become true stewards of the earth, make it fun and exciting and your kids will embrace it with the ferocity of a mama bear protecting her young!

Organic Part of Life

To Respect Nature you must immerse yourself in it!
Hiking is a great way to enjoy nature in an upfront and personal way. It’s also easy to get started and great for all ages. Photo: Susie Kellogg

Because of our extensive use of the natural environment, we are organically invested in safeguarding it for future generations.  We participate in local river cleanups, we take it upon ourselves to clear parking lots and trailheads of trash and various other proactive actions to ensure our National Forests, State Parks and other natural resources are protected and respected!

Getting your kids involved in neighborhood clean-ups, recycling endeavors and the like will help them see that even they can have a very profound effect on the world around them!!

And, as always, talk to them about the Do’s and Don’t before they go off on an adventure. Read stories of actual events, like the tragedy of the Columbia River Gorge fires so they have an understanding of the possible consequences. Discuss survival, “What would you do if?” type scenarios.

You’ll be surprised how organic and ever-flowing these conversations become once you’ve begun. Kids are intellectual sponges and if they care about something, if they are invested, they are passionate as well. So, get out there, get dirty. It is never ever too late to find a new passion!

Respect Nature

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