For six years, I have worked in environmental education. I love to talk to anyone who will listen about ways they can positively impact the natural world. Yes, this is my job, but it is also my passion. I don’t clock in and out of caring for a clean natural world. It is who I am, through and through. So, this year when picking out my young son’s presents for the holidays, I find myself drawn to toys and experiences that will instill this value in him. I look for timeless toys that can be used outside or inside and do not have a prescribed way to play. In other words, we have a lot of wooden toys. Then as I reflect on the items he has already in his life, I find myself struggling to come up with a way to top his first birthday present.
For his first birthday last summer, he received a water table, a toy that we played with endlessly. We watched how water moved, and how we could change its color by adding dirt. I watched him struggle to understand why rocks would sink to the bottom, but the sticks would float (he spent a significant amount of time trying to get those sticks to stay at the bottom). He was absolutely entranced by how water he removed from his table would “disappear” on our lawn but make patterns on our driveway. I can’t imagine how many hours we spent playing on that table. Though he will not remember how he loved to use the green shovel or how he hated when the green toy frog got in his way, I hope that the hours spent outside playing in water laid the foundation for him to want to protect this natural resource.
As we work to pick out toys to suggest for Santa to bring, we come back to the list of “rules” we have. Is it timeless? Will it grow with my son? Can it be used both indoors and outdoors? Will it inspire imaginative play? Will it help to lay a foundation for a love of nature? Lastly, will it be as used as our water table?
His generation will have a lot of environmental crises to work through, especially as our global climate changes, making some issues bigger and worse. One environmental crisis I hope that my generation can solve is the water shortage that today leaves more than 2.2 billion people without access to clean safe drinking water. If my generation cannot solve this problem, but instead continues to contribute to the negative impacts in our waterways that lead to Lake Erie’s algae bloom, it will fall to my son’s generation to change the world when those before him couldn’t. Therefore, I find it imperative to help him fall in love with the beauty and wonder of this resource so that he will want to protect it in the future-and I hope we are off to a good start!
by Jacquelyn Buck