When I started thinking about GeoWeek’s blog-a-thon, I considered the meaning of geography. In simple words, geography is the science of places and the relationships between people and their environments. It’s the land, the water, the people and everything else around. Based on that definition, I needed to know why geography matters for children. My girls are 8 and 10 years old and at school, they learn geography in classes that focus on different cultures, mountain environments, or the ecology of a river. It’s all age-appropriate and they love it, but they don’t realize what a solid foundation it gives them for life. Besides a formal knowledge of places, geography also brings them tools to better make decisions and navigate this world, to make it their own when they grow up. One of these tools is conservation, hence this post on marine conservation.
As the mother of two girls and a nature blogger, I rank conservation and environmental education pretty high on my agenda. As an open water swimmer, I count the ocean as one of my favorite environments to be in. Combine both worlds and you’ll see why ocean conservation is a regular breakfast table topic at home. Warming oceans, overfishing, great pacific garbage patch, melting glaciers, stranded polar bears – my girls have heard it all rehashed to death. However, talking about gloom and doom is not going to lead us anywhere. What oceans need is action – action from us adults, but also action from children. Children are the ones who will inherit the planet and action on their part will only come if they care. Would you fight for something you don’t love?
Now for children to care, they need to know about the ocean and that will come from education. While educating children on ocean ecology and conservation is necessary for the ocean’s future, doing it right is not as easy as it sounds. Too often, environmental education becomes heavy-handed and falls into the “homework” trap – making everything feel like a chore. Kids don’t like chores. Kids like to have fun. And that’s great news.
I’ll take the example of my girls as they’re the kids I know best. We are an urban family living in a big city about 40 miles to the closest seashore. As such, we only enjoy the seaside on school vacations or on special day trips to the beach. Whenever we go, my girls always have a blast and how could they not? They’re 8 and 10 years old, mini adults-in-the-making with an exuberant happiness about being out and about. They love splashing in waves as much as building sandcastles or digging water tunnels. Quite simply, they enjoy playing.
Now, playing might seem irrelevant to the fate of the ocean but it’s not if you consider that children learn better while having fun. Tide pools are an amazing example of how a fun outing at low tide can be educational for children. On tide pool trips, my girls like to bring a laminated field guide with pictures and names of local sea creatures. They wear the field guide with a string around their neck and start exploring the submerged reefs as the tide recedes. For them, learning intertidal ecology becomes an I-spy game where they score when they find a hermit crab scurrying about in a pool (tide pool habitat) or a giant sea anemone closed up to retain its moisture (tide pool adaptation), or when an ochre sea star tries to gobble up limpets on the loose or when seagulls feed on small fish (tidepool food chains). Unsuspectingly, they are interactively learning about tide pool ecosystems.
Tidepools are only one of many examples of how children can learn about the ocean without realizing it. Fortunately for us, whether they’re preschoolers or teenagers, all children have an innate curiosity about the world that makes them avid learners.
It’s just a matter of jazzing up big concepts by throwing some fun into the equation. Did the kids learn about the oceans in geography class at school? Plan a trip to the nearest aquarium to see (and maybe touch) live marine wildlife. Are the kids intrigued about polar bears, whales or penguins? Head to the library and look for back issues of the magazine National Geographic Kids that talk about Arctic and Antarctic environments. Do you have an ocean hero or a favorite ocean explorer? At home, watch videos of people who inspire you with the kids.
By understanding how everything is connected in the ocean and how we interact with it as humans, children will learn to care and protect the ocean because they will want it to be a better place – not just for the fish, but for them too.
It’s after connecting the dots between health of the ocean and human pollution that my girls started collecting plastic trash on the beach. To be honest, they’d rather play in the sea but they see the point of preventing plastic stuff from floating away.
Geography has many meanings, it’s a wide discipline whose biggest asset is the ability to connect people and places, societies and environments. If all children were lucky enough to learn geography and to fall in love with what it means, the world would be a better place.
Written by: Laure Latham