Children sitting in a circle being taught about creation

We Need Each Other: Children and Adults in Creation Care

By Matthew W. Humphrey, Director of Theological Education

“It’s good that you are working with children about this. They are the ones who will need to fix this problem!”

“My kids keep hassling me about the environment – dad, you need to recycle that!”

“What really led me to care about this was my children.”

These are just a few of the comments I received over several years of working at the Brooksdale Environmental Centre regularly giving tours to visitors and guests. Having heard a broad description of our mission and work, and hopefully seen some of that vision embodied in the hive of activity around the place, often the questions would be philosophical:

How do you really make this happen in the real world – beyond the bounds of Brooksdale? 

And inevitably the sort of collective wisdom would turn to children. To the important work of educating children about caring for Creation, and indeed to helping them lead the way to create change in our world. As an organization committed to environmental education, I would have to agree – though perhaps not quite in the ways you would expect. Allow me to explain.

Children already have wonder-filled experiences of nature (and of God) – something adults have often lost or been socialized to overlook or ignore.

Old Wisdom

When I first began working at summer camps in the late 90s and early 2000s, the wisdom of the day was “ignore the adults: educate the children.” The impulse seems at first glance a decent one. Children are more open to being taught, goes the logic. And it is our job to teach them. Rest assured, a great part of what we do at A Rocha is teach children!

But thankfully the theory behind this has shifted greatly over the intervening years. We are no longer assuming children are blank slates that need to be filled with information. Rather, we embrace our fellow humans as members of this world, bearing within themselves all of the potential to see and feel and experience the world God has made. In this light, we find kids as co-members of the world – each bringing a unique perspective and experience.

I recall a field trip to the beach with my daughter, who was seven. We were invited to explore the beach landscape looking for ways God might be revealed in what we found – and to bring a small piece of that back to share with the group.  Upon returning I thought she was empty handed.  But when it came time for us to share, I prodded her – did you have anything?  She reached down and grabbed a handful of sand: “life is hard, she said, and we need to build our lives on something firm, like God, not like this sand.” Perhaps she has seen or heard that parable – I can’t be sure. But it was in her experience of the beach that brought forth this lovely insight into her life – and our giving her space to share brought that insight into ours.

You see, young people are wired to love the world God made – it is the teaching of adults that often stifles or limits them.

Don’t get me wrong – so many children suffer from what Richard Luov calls ‘nature deficit disorder.’ We’ve had children recoil in fear over being handed a compost worm – nervous it might bite them. Or being nervous to walk through the forest for fear of bears. But I think it’s helpful to note these assumptions were taught, very often by adults, whose context distanced them from Creation. This distance is amplified in western societies which depends on lengthening supply chains – we have less and less personal interaction with Creation, except to often retreat into it once life in the city overwhelms us. So how might we recognize this starting point in our lives as adults – and give children the chance to truly enjoy the world God has made, even if we are distanced from it?

We Need Each Other

You see, we need each other, children and adults, to learn about this wondrous world.

Adults play a necessary part in the healing of Creation. We can’t afford to wait for another generation to take the lead – we need to work together now.

The irony of the approach of focusing on the children is it overlooks that each of these children is raised by adult caregivers. It is our legacy together to craft a world worth living in, a home worth sharing, a loving environment within which we can all thrive.

As such, we must shift our thinking to learn from the experiences of children and young people and to offer what we, as privileged adults, may have to give to our common future. This can be challenging, as we face some real generational gaps around care for Creation. It will not do to hide behind these difficult divides anymore. We need one another – and to start with listening. How are your children approaching the world of Creation? What brings them joy and delight and wonder?

What brings joy, delight, and wonder to you?

I recall one of our supporters who came to care for Creation late in life and who had spent a vast career in an area you might think opposed to Creation. What changed, I asked at one of our events? It was a child who came home from University. Having studied literature and the fiction of Wendell Berry, they had important questions for mom and dad about how life back on the farm was being treated – how the health of animals and soil were being considered, how the economic model was taking into account the health of people and places. Can we adults open ourselves to these insights and questions – new as they may be? Can we offer room for our children to thrive and to offer their perspectives and lead us forward?

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