Montessori tips: How to talk about environmental concerns to your child?

How to talk about environmental concerns to your children?⁠

As a Montessori teacher & child psychologist, I am very cautious about how to talk about difficult events to young children.⁠

Generally, when we want to talk to children about poverty, inequality, wars, & environmental concerns, we mean well.⁠

Montessori taught us that children under the age of 6 learn about the world around them through hands-on and concrete experience. They need to see, smell, feel, hear the "world". They are attuned to their close environment. The worldwide world outside their immediate surrounding is very abstract.⁠

Young children are also very self-centered. We say that they are in an egocentric stage, they understand the world from their own viewpoint. It means that they take everything on a personal level. They cannot distance themselves from what is happening around them as easily as us.⁠

On top of that, they have a very limited understanding of time, the future is very abstract!⁠

So when we expose them to the negativity of this world, we may overwhelm them, we may frighten them and the reaction will be a shut down of their emotions, anxiety about the world that we want them to protect.⁠
So the best thing is to role model without the need to explain why, limiting what is damaging to the Earth without the need to explain what would be the consequences. ⁠

It is not being naive or untrue. You protect your children when they are not ready to hear the reality. You give them as much information as they are able to handle. For example, by all means, pick up the trash on your way to the park. And if your child asks why just say "we put the litter in the bin". When children are over 7, in the second plane of development, they want to contribute to society. It's a time when they can understand more but we need to provide them with solutions & positivity as hopeless children don't save the world.⁠

Some practical ways to introduce your children to the natural world:

Provide hands-on experiences: Montessori education emphasizes learning through hands-on and concrete experiences. Take your children on nature walks, let them plant and care for a garden, and involve them in outdoor activities that engage their senses and curiosity.

Encourage observation: Children are natural observers, and the natural world provides endless opportunities for observation and exploration. Encourage your children to observe the plants, animals, and natural phenomena around them, and provide them with the tools they need to explore and document what they see: field books, 3-part cards to learn all the names of animals and plants, binoculars and magnifier are some great tools to have.

Teach respect for the environment: Children learn by example, so it's important to model positive behaviors and attitudes towards the environment. Teach your children to respect and appreciate nature by demonstrating good stewardship and explaining the importance of preserving the environment. For example: pick up trash on your walk, explain why you choose a plastic free version of something, release spiders in the outdoor instead of killing them, ...

Read books and tell stories: Books and stories are a great way to introduce children to the natural world and spark their curiosity. Look for books and stories that highlight the wonders of nature and encourage children to explore and appreciate the environment around them. I have many book lists on the blog. In general choose a variety of books with real pictures and illustrations.

Plan nature-based activities: Planning nature-based activities is a great way to engage children in the natural world and inspire their curiosity. Consider going on a nature scavenger hunt, setting up a bird-watching station, or organizing a nature-themed art project.

Involve children in conservation efforts: As children get older, they become increasingly aware of the impact humans have on the environment. Encourage your children to get involved in conservation efforts by volunteering, participating in community clean-up events, or taking part in eco-friendly initiatives.

To go further:

David Sobel, the author of the quote at the beginning of this article, has written extensively on the topic of children and hands-on education and play in nature. His numerous books—from Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors to Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities and to Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators, plus other works focusing on different age levels—offer parents and teachers insights into the value, appeal, and techniques of outdoor experiences for personal, physical, and social growth.

He is also the author of "Beyond Ecophobia". Beyond Ecophobia speaks to teachers, parents, and others interested in nurturing in children the ability to understand and care deeply for nature from an early age. The books includes descriptions of developmentally appropriate environmental education activities and a list of related children's books.

Books recommendations:

Be mindful about introducing activists books too early. Even if as a grown-up, you feel the urgency, eco-anxiety can be very damaging for young children and impact how they will want to protect the Earth as they grow. It can have the opposite effect, making them so anxious than they cannot take action. 

I mainly recommend books for children in the second plane of development, from 7+. For toddlers and preschoolers, focus on giving them a love of nature by learning about animals and plants and all the beauty of the natural world. 

The following books are great introduction to Ecology and other environment topics that are important.

Ecology for kids: science experiments and activities inspired by Awesome ecologists

I have another book in this series so I can recommend it warmly. A mix of history and science. More for 6-8+

The Whale Who Ate Plastic: Teaching Young Children About the Problem of Ocean Plastic Pollution  and the Importance of Recycling

If you are looking for a lovely picture book to gently help young children learn about ocean plastic, ocean pollution, and the importance of limiting plastic use and recycling, grab a copy of The Whale Who Ate Plastic. It's an excellent opening for further discussion about protecting the natural world.

Informative book about recycling.

Why do we need bees?

Why do we need bees? How do they make honey? And who's who in a beehive? Children can find the answers to these questions and many more in this informative lift-the-flap book. With colourful illustrations, simple text and chunky flaps to lift, young children can discover lots of amazing facts about bees and why they need our help

Climate crisis for beginners:

I have 3 other books in this series and I have been impressed by the balance views in the ones I shared with my child. I would recommend that you read the book first to make sure it can be shared with your children. I would recommend it for 10+.

Have you read any of those books? Do you have any other books to recommend? Leave a comment!

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.