This post is contributed by Amanda Marie Clark.
When I was young, my parents took me hiking, told me to turn off the lights, encouraged outdoor education trips, and instilled in me a love for animals. They also taught me to stop and enjoy nature. My father loved the forest and my mother loved the sea. They brought me to wildlife preserves and always pointed out interesting species. They encouraged us to ask questions and learn.
I didn’t know it at the time, but they were teaching me aspects of wildlife conservation, and it was not until I became an adult that I understood the importance of these acts.
Now I have a two-year-old boy and am pregnant with my second son, and I am eager to teach my own children about the importance of wildlife conservation. I am going to take some pointers from my own clever parents but also implement some of my own.
Perhaps one of the most basic ways I can teach my children wildlife conservation is to expose them to nature. In a world filled with screens and limitless technology, children are playing less and less outside. I have tried my best to get my two-year-old outside daily. We go for hikes, walk the dog, and tromp through the woods in our backyard.
On our small adventures, we have seen turkeys, many birds, raccoon, and more. He has been tempted to chase them, of course, but I explain to him that he needs to let them be, and he needs to respect them.
Two-year-olds understand way more than we give them credit for.
It is important to me that I teach my children how to respect and appreciate animals. This also begins with our pets at home. We have a cat and a dog, and my son sees that we have to nurture these animals; we have to be kind to them; we have to acknowledge that they are living creatures.
Additionally, he sees that they depend on us. We are responsible for their well-being.
I also plan on teaching my children wildlife conservation through community outings. Recently, my family attended a free manatee festival. It was a fundraiser for the manatee preserve near us, and they had crafts, face painting, shops, etc. It was quite the manatee extravaganza; moreover, it engaged my young son, and he walked away with a manatee coloring/fact book, a stuffed toy manatee mom and baby, and a visual of a real-live manatee that he saw swimming in the spring.
We also have attended events where wildlife experts were nurturing wounded owls back to health; they showed these owls to the crowd, told facts about their habitats, and answered questions.
My son always seems completely mesmerized when he sees these animals, and even at two, he starts talking about them. (I am able to translate most of his toddler jargon.) I am hoping outings like this will stick with my children and remind them that we are not the only species in this world. This is an invaluable lesson when we live in, unfortunately, a very self-centered society.
Another important way that I plan to teach my children about wildlife conservation is by planting trees with them and getting them into a garden.
They need to understand that plant life is valuable and essential to our world, and the health of these plants affects the habitats of the animals they value so much.
Planting trees is an open door to not only getting the kids dirty (I am a firm believer that they need to play in dirt), but it also is an opportunity to teach about how trees produce oxygen, how they become homes for little critters, and how they don’t magically appear, but were all seeds once.
It will also be an opportunity for my children to nurture something in nature and actually watch it grow. This is a connection to the outside world that Dora the Explorer cannot provide.
Also, by having my children even grow just a tomato plant, they will develop a deeper connection to food and understand that the food at dinner takes time and work and does not just automatically appear in our grocery carts.
I do not want my children to take these truths for granted. I also hope to teach my children about how our actions affect our world. I want to teach them to conserve at home by not wasting water and electricity.
I want them to realize that the world does not have an infinite amount of resources, and it is up to us to preserve these resources through small actions.
I want my sons to take out the recycling with their daddy every Wednesday and visit an actual recycling facility. I want them to visit a landfill and then visit an animal sanctuary. I want them to be aware of processes and causes and effects.
I want them to not be so wasteful and also understand that the products they buy in the future have an impact.
I want them to understand that we don’t only go to second-hand stores to save money, but we are, in fact, reusing and decreasing our carbon footprint.
I want my children to know that reducing, reusing, and recycling eliminates trash—which reduces landfills—which reduces the destruction of habitats—which leads back to preserving the plants and animals.
I want the connection to wildlife conservation to be made with the planted tree, our dog, and the manatee coloring book.
Most importantly, I want my children to know that their decisions matter and their choices affect the future.
Just like my parents taught me the importance of wildlife conservation, I want to teach it to my boys, and I want my boys to teach it to their children—and so on.
I want my two-year-old and unborn son to have a positive impact on our future, and I don’t want my kids to be so far removed from reality that they do not know the truth or realize that they are part of something bigger.
Because let’s be real, if we don’t teach our children the importance of wildlife conservation, someday, many years from now, but nonetheless, someday—there will be nothing left to teach because there will be . . . nothing left.