Inspiring your children to care for the environment is a gift that will last a lifetime.

Recent research confirms that getting children outdoors is the most powerful way to develop their desire to preserve the natural world.

Environmental educator David Sobel states, “One transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts.” Children who have an immersive experience in nature, between the ages of 5 and 10, are more likely to develop a deep love of the environment. A love that they will carry with them their entire lives, which in turn significantly increases the likelihood that they will actively work to preserve the environment as adults.

In addition engagement with nature has other positive cognitive effects, including improved performance in school, moral development, and a greater involvement and concern for community well-being.

A recent survey of 300 of the world’s most innovative thinkers and leaders showed clear links between childhood immersion in nature and out-of-the-box creativity and commitment to society.

Fortunately, there are lots of easy ways to give your children this precious, green gift.

Take walks outdoors. Nature walks, even in the local inner city park are a great way to get children in touch with the natural world. For ideas see .

There was a time (not that long ago!) when people knew the names of all the plants native to their local area. This was considered essential knowledge and was passed down, generation to generation. Children learnt which plants to avoid, because they were poisonous, and which were edible or had medicinal properties.

You can hear interviews with many of the UKs leading conservation organisations on PASSION for the PLANET

So use your walk as an opportunity to learn. See how many trees and birds you can identify and if you’re not sure, look them up when you get home. It’s always more fun to learn together and the more children know about nature the more likely it is that they will appreciate it. As biologist Elaine Brooks says, “Humans seldom value what they cannot name.”

Grow a garden. It’s a sad fact that many children grow up never knowing how food is produced or grown, or where water comes from (other than from the tap). Don’t assume your children understand these issues – take time to explain them.

Better still grow some of your own food. This simple activity will help your children discover where food comes from, how plants grow, and the role that creatures, great and small, play in the natural world.

It doesn’t have to be a huge garden – a small window box will give them plenty to observe. Get them involved in all stages of the process, from choosing what to grow, sowing the seeds and then caring for the plants. This will help them develop a greater appreciation for where food comes from and, let’s face it, watching a seed turn into food, is a pretty awe-inspiring process to witness.

If a garden is not possible then instead of buying a container of pre-packed berries at the supermarket, take your children to a pick your own.

Tackle the Truth About Meat. Many children become concerned about the ethics of eating meat when they find out what meat really is. As raising animals for mass production of meat is an environmentally damaging and wasteful process, it is an important topic to cover, however it may need to be approached gently, depending on the particulars of your family’s diet.

Even if you don’t wish to get into the details of intensive meat farming, children will quickly understand what it means if you tell them how much grain goes into the production of a single pound of meat, and how that grain could be used to feed people.

If your family is not vegetarian, then consider reducing the amount of meat you eat. Have a look at for some fun challenges and perhaps involve your children in a brainstorming session for meat free meals that the whole family would enjoy.

Get them involved in recycling. Give your children responsibility for collecting the household waste paper and rinsing out plastic bottles to put in the recycling. Put them in charge of making sure you have re-usable carrier bags with you when you go shopping. Perhaps make these actions a game or competition and link it to their pocket money. Once they have the recycling habit – they will keep it for life.

Get composting. There is something about the magic of banana peels, apple cores and grass cuttings turning into compost that appeals to children. Expect them to get even more excited about the addition of a wormery – most children are fascinated by mud and creepy crawlies! By letting them see how potato peelings and autumn leaves can be turned into something useful it will make them think about “waste” in a completely different way. See:

Read books and watch movies about animals, plants, and the environment. Whether its fiction or nonfiction, stories (books and films) about plants and animals, the weather, different climates, or other cultures are all wonderful resources for helping children make the connection that they are a part of a larger community, and that each of us has a part, negative or positive, to play.

Energy Saving. Get your children involved in making your home a “green house”. Almost any age can understand why leaving a light or the TV on when you are not in the room is wasteful. Encourage them to look for other areas where you are being wasteful in the home – children are full of ideas and its very likely they will find a whole host of areas where you could save energy and save money. See and

Teach by example. Children suck up what’s going on around them. If they see you being wasteful and ignoring your impact on the planet – they will do the same. So adopt as many planet-friendly habits as you can; recycle, re-use, save energy, use other forms of transport than the car, create a compost heap, be kind to animals, get involved in your local community, make friends with your neighbours, exercise your right to vote, munch a bit less meat, go shopping less, choose to spend time outside in nature not inside in front of the TV or computer… there are so many ways to easily teach by example, many of them will save you money and all of them will put your children in good stead for the future.

These ideas can be easily incorporated into even the busiest of schedules. They take only minutes to give – but the gifts lasts a lifetime.

About the Author: Chantal Cooke is a professional journalist, writer and author, co-founder of PASSION for the PLANET and a London Leader in Sustainability.

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