While there may be a growing consensus among parents that children can gain knowledge from watching nature documentaries and working on conservation through the classroom, these second-hand adventures will never hold the same sensory and emotional impact as childhood discoveries beneath a moss-covered brick, or a pile of dried leaves.
According to Wilson’s (1984) well-regarded ‘biophilia hypothesis,’ humans are born with an innate affinity for nature. It asserts that human dependence on nature is not limited to material and physical sustenance but also intellectual, cognitive and spiritual needs.
Since children develop habits, personalities, and interests when young, this affinity for nature needs to be encouraged at the right age. If children’s natural attraction to nature is not given opportunities to flourish during the early years, or left unencouraged, children may even develop biophobia: an aversion to nature.
Schools must incorporate conservation/environmental education to facilitate early childhood development. This could include rich and challenging environments and multisensory based activities such as storytelling, communication, and other outdoor learning activities, to tap into a child’s full potential and inculcate pro-environment values among young children.
In Nepal, Environment Education is part of the larger science subject in the curriculum, however, due to easy access to nature throughout the country, many schools have incorporated elements of the ‘Green School’ concept. The Ministry of Education (MoE) supported by WWF Nepal, launched a Green School Guideline in 2018, with the objective of helping schools create an enabling environment for children and with a vision to transform spaces in schools into ‘Living Libraries’.
This teaches children patience, creativity, stress control while inculcating a strong connection to nature with the ‘One School, One Garden’ idea. Kopila Valley School in Surkhet has taken the concept a step further to be completely eco-friendly, built with earth materials, and fitted with solar energy and rainwater harvesting.
The Green School Guideline, implemented through ‘eco clubs’ in schools, is geared towards encouraging children to become environmentally responsible citizens. It encourages children to plant medicinal herbs, fruits, fast-growing crops and bio fences within the school premises to promote permaculture and agro-forestry as an alternative to traditional agricultural systems.
These ‘green schools’ teach principles of conservation and the importance of protecting nature to the children and the community. Nepal faces multiple challenges from being highly climate-vulnerable despite negligible emissions, to having an economy that is heavily reliant on foreign aid, which is why it is pertinent that we create a far-sighted curriculum for our children that addresses immediate challenges, innovative solutions and works towards building a sustainable tomorrow for ourselves and our planet.