Environmental awareness: A different view


Debbie Jacob

I am betting you haven’t given much thought to two recent international news stories with vitally important lessons for you to teach your children.

The first story from April 28, is about Dillon Reeves, a 13-year-old boy who was heading home on a school bus full of children in Detroit, Michigan in the US, when he noticed the driver having a medical emergency.

Reeves grabbed the steering wheel, hit the brake, kept the bus from crashing and shouted to the children on the bus, “Someone call 911. Now!”

Because of this boy’s response, everyone on the bus survived. Why Reeves and no one else on the bus noticed the bus driver had become incapacitated makes this an important story.

The second story is about four indigenous Colombian children who survived a plane crash that killed their mother and two other adults. The children spent 40 days in the Amazon jungle before a special search team rescued them.

How did these children know how to avoid wild cats, poisonous snakes and plants, and why is their ordeal an important lesson for parents?

These stories get passed off as interesting and rare, but they remind us of the need to teach children environmental and situational awareness, two skills that often get ignored when we’re raising children.

Environmental awareness has become synonymous with conservation, but it’s also about developing an awareness of how to operate and stay safe in any given place. Arguably, we’ve lost sight of how to do this because technology distracts us.

When US television news programmes highlighted Reeves’ story, they pointed out that he was the only child on the bus who did not own a cell phone. The other children were all playing games on their phone when the emergency occurred, and they didn’t observe what was going on.

Reeves had no distractions and not having a phone meant he was always more aware of his surroundings.

International news stories about the four children lost in the Amazon highlighted how indigenous children are taken to the rain forests from five-years-old and taught basic survival skills – including how to distinguish between edible and poisonous fruit.

These are two extreme circumstances, but they remind us of the importance of teaching children to be aware of their surroundings whether it’s walking down a busy city street, entering a business place, getting on a bus, a taxi.

Danger lurks everywhere and we concentrate more on tuning it out than being vigilant. The question is, how important do we feel it is to teach children this type of environmental awareness? They’re certainly safer and more confident with this knowledge.

I grew up on a remote dairy farm in Ohio, and by the age of five I knew how to tell poisonous snakes like copperheads from water snakes, rat snakes and garter snakes which slithered from the creek across the road into our yard.

I learned to be vigilant, but not afraid when exploring forests and searching for American Indian arrowheads at the creek. I knew how to tell mushrooms from poisonous toadstools and how to avoid poison ivy while searching for wild raspberries, blackberries and elderberries.

I avoided foxes that raided the hen house because foxes carried rabies. My world was exciting, but it was also dangerous. That environmental awareness was important.

I have carried those lessons learned as a child with me – even when I moved to urban areas. Skills transfer, and awareness of your surroundings always puts you at an advantage in dangerous situations.

I was taught to understand and respect the place where I lived, but never was told to avoid places. But my parents weren’t struggling with technology as a distractor. Technology is important, but parents need to teach responsible use of electronic devices and restraint at certain times. That’s healthy discipline.

Danger aside, think about how much we’re all missing when we use technology to tune out the world. Observation skills enrich our lives, sharpen cognitive skills and create memories.

If we’re not always lost in electronic devices in public spaces, we are interacting with people, communicating with strangers, and building relationships.

When we actively participate in environmental awareness, we learn to interpret the world around us.

This makes us more creative and better suited to operate in the shifting environment that defines us. Five children in two extremely different situations taught some invaluable lessons about environmental awareness that we can’t afford to ignore.


"Environmental awareness: A different view"

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