Understanding How Children Develop

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Childhood has its own way of seeing, thinking and feeling and nothing is more foolish than to try to substitute ours for theirs… Jean Jacques Rousseau

The White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group published an article titled Nurturing Children’s Biophilia: Developmentally Appropriate Environmental Education for Young Children that discusses the 3 basic stages of children’s environmental education and development:


Early Childhood (ages 3-7)


Early/Middle Grade School (ages 7-11)

Social Action

Adolescence (ages 12-17)

Listed here are a few of the articles salient talking points:

  • The way children learn is completely different than adults. Young children are active learners. Their best learning occurs with hands-on, interactive play and self-discovery rather than on trying to impart knowledge to them. Young children have a natural curiosity that requires direct sensory experience rather than conceptual generalization.
  • Children experience the natural environment differently than adults. Children judge nature not by its aesthetics, but rather by the manner of their interactions and sensory experiences with it.
  • Children have an innate, genetically predisposed tendency to explore and bond with the natural world known as biophilia, i.e. love of nature. Evidence of biophilia has been observed in children even younger than two.
  • If children’s natural attraction to nature is not given opportunities to flourish during their early years, biophobia, an aversion to nature may develop. Biophobia ranges from discomfort and fear in natural places to contempt for whatever is not man-made, managed or air-conditioned. Biophobia is also manifest in regarding nature as nothing more than a disposable resource.
  • “Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.” The problem with most environmental education programs is that they try to impart knowledge and responsibility before children have been allowed to develop a loving relationship with the natural world.
  • A problem with most young children’s environmental education programs is that they approach education from an adult’s, rather than a child’s perspective. Teaching nature abstractly in the classroom does not lead to pro-environmental behaviors in later life.
  • Children’s experiences during early childhood should nurture the conception of the child as a part of nature. It is during early childhood when children’s experiences give form to the values, attitudes, and basic orientation toward the world that they will carry with them throughout their lives. Regular positive interactions within nature allow children to feel comfortable in it, develop empathy with it and grow to love it. No one can love what he or she doesn’t know through intimate association.
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