With a nod to Graham Nash who wrote the song we can all sing by heart, teaching the children well may be one of the most important legacies we can offer, especially in these challenging times. Not only must we teach them to read and think critically but we need to teach them about how intertwined we are with nature and the environment that nurtures us. Children need to understand how interconnected we are with nature. Some politicians apparently need to be reminded of this as well.

It is no secret that there has been a dramatic decrease in the time children spend outside, especially children in urban areas, but it is true here on the Cape as well. It is easy to blame this on the cultural love affair with screens that give us entertainment 24/7 but it runs deeper than that, I think.

As an outdoor educator I hear a lot of fear talk from parents. Believe it or not, some parents are actually terrified that a wild animal will attack and kill their child. Usually it is a coyote that has inspired the fear, but I’ve heard from people afraid of fishers, raccoons and even skunks. And don’t even get me started on those who won’t let their children swim because of sharks.

We live in an area where there are no poisonous snakes, no large cats or bears and where the chance of running into an animal with rabies is close to nil. It’s about as safe here as in a protected park. Children are more likely to run into a dangerous person out of their mind on drugs than a dangerous wild animal.

Over the last few months I’ve been privileged to work with several groups of young children in grades K-3 over a long period of time. One of these groups is at a private school where the children have pretty much anything a child could dream of. They are articulate, thoughtful and engaged. I also work with a group of children at a public school known to have a challenging population. This school serves a large number of homeless children, immigrant children and children that often don’t have much to eat outside the school setting. These children, though they often don’t have the rich educational background of the others, are eager to learn, smart and thoughtful, though often distracted.  Most have an overwhelming desire to learn even though some lack language and reading skills. Their enthusiasm is fresh, invigorating and demanding.

We are learning about the ecology and nature of Cape Cod, focusing each week on a different plant or animal family. Our last lesson was about birds and included a close examination of feathers as well as a chat about migration. The latter brought up a discussion about moving to Cape Cod from other countries with lots of little fingers jabbing at places in South and Central America as we looked at a bird migration map. They ran around the room flapping their arms, making bird noises in several languages as they migrated to Cape Cod.

In all my lessons I try to help the students relate to what we are talking about in a large as well as personal way. I want them to understand that mollusks, insects, birds and humans are all equally important to the big circle of life that is our world. There’s something basic in children that allows them to instinctively comprehend this. They get it. But it needs to be woken in them and that is our job. It isn’t hard, and it doesn’t need to be preachy. We need to wake up the adults around us as well. We’re all in this world together. If we don’t teach the children well now, it may be too late in the future. As we all know, many grownups seem to have forgotten already. We need to teach them, too.