Not ‘the last child in the woods’: What could raising Eco-conscious children look like?

Adithi Muralidhar and Deborah Dutta (Guest author)

It is said that raising a child [1] is like writing a script for the future. An unfinished one, of course, because they will and should be authoring their lives and choices. Yet, as elders we definitely shape the beginning of the story. So, what kind of stories should we write?

In a world literally and figuratively burning with climate change and its associated effects, it is the task of several generations to create alternatives. We may initiate radical efforts in our lifetime, but it is upto the future generations to sustain those efforts, and undo the actions that have caused damage.

This #WorldEnvironmentDay, we would like to share with you the efforts of some parents who are trying their best to ensure that their children learn to care, value and take a stand for things that matter. As the pandemic has amply proven, this doesn’t extend much beyond the right to clean air, water, food, home, health and the well-being of other creatures we share this world with.

Even in these bleak times, we hope the narratives of four couples raising their children in eco-conscious ways inspire you to imagine a future where sustainability and flourishing are a way of life [2].

Hamsa and Abhiram

Hamsa and Abhiram had an eco-friendly wedding. How, you ask? For starters, their wedding produced minimal waste [3]. They continued to compost their wet waste and grow a part of their own food at home. When their daughter was born, the first major decision they took was choosing cloth diapers and langots. Adopting this may come across as more work for parents, as the time in cleaning and drying diapers may seem daunting. However, cloth diapers are the safest option for the child, with no chemical exposure. There are always tasks at hand 24×7 with a newborn, disposables seem very tempting to take on. As way of life, they continue to imbibe this value of sustainability in their home in many different ways. Most of their daughter’s clothes, books, toys are hand-me-downs and second-hand is the new cool for her! She also participates in many of the garden and kitchen duties at home.

Image 1: Having harvested Malabar spinach, the little one is sorting them for the cooking
Image Courtesy: Hamsa and Abhiram

“People love gifting things to newborns. Asking the parents what they need before buying gifts, is a great way to ensure that gifts don’t lie unused. Our closest friends gave us useful things, some of them cooked for us, helped with the baby while we caught some sleep…these are far more valuable than materialistic things.”

HAMSA AND ABHIRAM
Anisha and Girish

Anisha and Girish engage their 4-year-old in unbelievably creative ways to minimise their house-hold waste. Since they themselves practice waste-segregation, recycle their plastic waste, and do not purchase any unnecessary single-use plastics, it became pertinent to come up with innovative ways to engage in activities that create minimal waste. For example, many of their daughter’s learning and play activities, including decorations and gifts are either plant-based, cloth or paper! They don’t buy or gift items involving battery-operated toys and glitter adorned accessories. They have also replaced plastic items like toothbrush and straw with bamboo and metal respectively.

Image 2: An upcycled magic wand (left) and “Return gifts for kids” which are home-made paper cones carrying healthy snacks like nuts and dry fruits.
Image Courtesy: Anisha and Girish

“Everyday choices can get quite tough as on one end there is your child’s happiness and on the other there is awareness of the fact that it is not good for the environment. And accommodating this value within the larger society your child is raised in, can be challenging. Sustainability is a slow process which evolves with time, effort and experiments and eventually becomes a lifestyle.”

ANISHA AND GIRISH

Shruti and Arun

Shruti and Arun have been practitioners of waste segregation, recycling, as well as advocates of public transport, since before their family grew. Their two sons only make this group of eco-practitioners bigger. Now, they explore the outdoors and bike together as a family, and involve their kid in their every day eco-practices. For example, their (elder) son has been made in charge of segregating waste at home and also taking the waste and segregated materials to the building recycling bins since he was 1.5 years old! This has made him more perceptive of different types of household materials and the importance of reusing them as toys. In fact, reusing and recycling, sharing with others has become a part of this 2-year-old’s life already.

Image 3: Folding the cardboard packaging (left) and disposing it in the paper-recycling bin (right)
Image Courtesy: Shruti and Arun

“By living simply, we are being the change we want to see “

SHRUTI AND ARUN
Assavri and Nirmal

Assavri and Nirmal’s home is an abode for three wonderful dogs, one cat, several visiting squirrels, snakes, frogs, birds, insects, and loads of plants. In other words, their home is a mini biodiversity hot-spot! And here is where their 6 year old is also raised, in the lap of nature. Assavri and Nirmal are very conscious about what goes on their plates. They grow a part of their food at home, buy only local produce, use only Goan traditional kitchenware, use home-made soaps and scrubs amongst other eco-practices. Assavri makes the most creative dishes which are not only healthy and seasonal but can make anyone’s taste buds craving for more. Their daughter is an integral part of their farm to plate journey and helps around. Moreover, typical birthday bashes are replaced by small family get-togethers, with return gifts being wooden bird feeders. A&N have created a small library for their daughter that has old books gifted to her (instead of toys) from friends and family. At the age of six, she is attuned to the movements of critters around her, enjoys her games involving natural pigments and eco-toys, sports quite a bit of traditional knowledge on local herbs and “refuses” the (plastic) straw!

Image 4: Spending time in nature and earth is
an every day thing
Image Courtesy: Akshaj Khadilkar (left), Vaibhav Kandalgoankar (right), Assavri and Nirmal

Make memories and lessons their future investment not painful past. Be careful of what you say in front of your child about people, animal, earth, food and yourself because they are listening to remember for forever.”

ASSAVRI AND NIRMAL

It takes a village to raise a child

Praiseworthy as their efforts are, children require an equally supportive community to build on the values and perspectives introduced at home. A tender animated movie, titled “Wolf Children- Ame and Yuki”, revolves around the experiences of a single mother trying her best to raise her children who also happen to be part-wolves. The film navigates through her struggles to provide her children the freedom to grow as they would like to be, while grounding them with values of kindness and empathy.

‘Wolf-children’ here is symbolic of the unique social needs of a child. Irrespective of our personal roles, we can all play a part in nurturing a supportive environment for children. We can create the nature trails that children may follow, be mindful of our waste so that they are careful too, grow the plants that they may eat, and plant the trees that give them company. As biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, “This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.” In teaching children to find affinity with their more-than-human environment, we may ensure that they are never short on companionship. In the process, our own journey is enriched too!

Acknowledgements: Thank you so much Abhiram, Anisha, Arun, Assavri, Girish, Hamsa, Nirmal and Shruti for your time and stories.

End Notes

[1] The title “Last child in the woods” is a book by Richard Louv.

[2] The article is not a commentary on the idea of having children, which is arguably a difficult choice intersecting through personal desires, social expectations and acceptability. We are also mindful of the fact that these narratives arise from particular sensibilities and privileges. In many rural and tribal areas ‘eco-consciousness’ is built on ideas of frugality and living based on local resources, thus being a default rather than some deliberate lifestyle. Having said that, critical middle-class sensibilities can also shift larger social perceptions around consumption and other material aspirations, and thus should be seen as catalysts of change.

[3] Typically a metro city has been known to waste as much as 943 tonnes of quality food in weddings, each year! The organic waste from Hamsa and Abhiram’s wedding went to Chembur Hospital Biogas plant, which converted it to electricity and the organic waste from their Pune reception went to composting sites.

Education and Awareness Short Stories

Earthly Notes View All →

My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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