If my children do not grow up loving the sea, I will consider myself a failure.
Since before my first child was born, I prepared to teach my children about the oceans and share my passion for all things salt water:
- While pregnant I painted a coral reef mural in what has become the playroom, trying to influence my children in the direction of tropical seas. How can you not love the tropical seas? They are the place where fish shock you with color, dazzle you with strange shapes, and invite visitors to peek in dark holes in search of octopus or eel.
- We taught our son sign language before he could speak, and we were quite proud of his first sign: fish. My husband and I were even more proud when he could say ‘anenome’ better than most adults (before he was 2!). In fact, he could identify most common marine species at an aquarium not long after, shocking other patrons when he would identify something in the tank.
Our efforts seem to have worked—I feel confident that my 4-year old son has a passion for the sea. And I know that this passion also connects him to natural wonders on dry land. No matter where or when you start, connecting children to nature will enrich their lives.
Now, I am not just in this gig to enrich my childrens’ lives. I want something out of it too—I want them to become the caretakers of these places that I love. To respect oceans and reefs and marine creatures, to protect them and understand that this is about their lives, their fate, and that of their children.
The truth is, I don’t work to protect the environment for the environment’s sake. I work to protect it for the billions of people that require clean air, clean water and a healthy ocean to survive. It sounds cliché, but I do it for my children and their children, too.
Most kids don’t need our help to connect with nature, they just need exposure. For people that don’t live near the coast, connecting your children to the ocean can be challenging, but not impossible.
Here’s my top 5 list of things anyone can do:
- Visit an aquarium: Especially the touch tanks! Getting splashed at a sea lion show or holding a sea star in your hands is sure to bring squeals of delight.
- Visit a zoo: Most zoos at least have a marine mammal exhibit and some even have small aquariums.
- Visit bodies of water: Whether it is a pond, lake, or river—all water eventually makes it to the ocean. Share this with your child and talk about where the water goes when it drains from the bathtub.
- Read ocean books: The reading list is endless and the sea critters will blow your minds.
- Get outside: Everything is connected and what we do on land impacts the sea. Connecting your children to nature is the first step to connecting them to the ocean.
The next step in developing appreciation for the oceans is to get children involved in protecting it.
Almost any green choice you make will help the oceans today, and involving your children in these choices will make a difference tomorrow. Whether it’s the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), organic gardening, pesticide-free lawn care, using cloth grocery bags, eating vegetarian, biking instead of driving … everyone, even kids, can begin to take small steps. The list of ways you can help our oceans is long and each little step gets us closer to a brighter future.
I sometimes wonder if turning my son into an ocean ‘geek’ will scar him socially, but I obviously don’t worry too much about it—I’m doing it again with my 10-month-old, who just started signing…you guessed it: fish!
(Image: The marine playroom the author painted for her children. Source: Steph Wear.)
Donate to The Nature Conservancy and give back to nature.