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How to teach your child to be an eco-warrior

As parents or grandparents, we all want the best for our little ones. And when we think of what "the best" entails, it definitely includes a healthy and thriving planet, complete with the beautiful creatures we've all come to know and love.

Unfortunately, though, the future that many of us want for our children is anything but certain. From the news that our wildlife is in catastrophic decline, to the fact that half a billion animals perished in recent bushfires, it’s clear the creatures of our planet are under threat and we should all be concerned. What is truly concerning, though, is that we don’t seem to be doing enough about it. Many world leaders are currently not prioritising animal conservation, and are in fact contributing to ecosystem collapse. 

But what can we do about it? 

It’s easy to feel powerless sometimes, but in fact, our best chance of a better future often stares back at us at the dinner table - it's our children. If we invest in teaching them to be little eco-warriors, there’s no limit to what they can achieve. They can right our wrongs. They can change everything. 

And in fact, they’re already doing it. 

Harper's Army

Meet young Harper, a passionate conservationist and the leader of a new breed of eco-warriors. In just ten years, Harper managed to remove 2000 pieces of litter from the environment, plant over 1000 trees, build nest boxes for native wildlife, and advocate for animal conservation in many other ways. Here is Harper’s incredible - yet heartbreaking - story and how each of us can help our little ones become eco-warriors and advocate for the change we all want to see:

Inspiring curiosity from a young age

As many parents will know, children, regardless of their environment, are often born with certain characteristics and traits. This was certainly true of Harper, his mum Jacinda believes. Even when he was still in utero, she felt he had certain special qualities: 

“Harper’s energy radiated long before he came into the world. Whenever he moved inside me, I felt as if I knew he would have an unparalleled zest for life.” 

And, oh boy, what a zest Harper had. As a toddler, Harper would often ask Jacinda what they were doing next, a sign he was always going to be a little man of action. 

Yet, although Jacinda essentially felt that Harper was born an eco-warrior, as a parent, she believed it was important for her to create an environment where he appreciated all things nature, and she and her partner, Matt, set out to do exactly this. 

From the moment Harper was born, Jacinda would encourage Harper to be outside, interacting with all manner of bugs and nature. Jacinda would often take the family camping and hiking, which she believed played a big part in Harper’s love for nature. But hiking was more than just about being outside. During family trips, Jacinda would encourage Harper to really engage with the environment: 

“As a family, we always took the time to stop and notice the little wonders of the natural world. Doing so really encouraged Harper to take greater interest in the creatures around him.”

Creating a thirst for knowledge

Interacting with nature and animals from a young age is essential in creating little eco-warriors. But equally important is learning about nature’s ecosystems, and this is something that Jacinda encouraged, and Harper took an interest in, from early on. 

Both books and documentaries played a big part in Harper’s life, and helped seed his interest in all things conservation, Jacinda says: 

Children’s books played a huge role in Harper’s life, as both Matt and I were avid readers. Harper also watched hours and hours of documentaries from as early as 3 years old.”

“What quickly followed was his passion and thirst for knowledge. He took a particular interest in dinosaurs, and I think this, combined with our family’s interest in the natural world, helped cement the idea that we were a family who cared.”

Building an ecosystem and watching it thrive

Learning about nature and animals is one thing, but taking action to do something positive with your knowledge is entirely another. Action was something that Harper was interested in from a young age, and this interest first manifested itself in creating an ecosystem of his very own - in his bedroom! 

Harper dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands to save baby turtles, but in the absence of being able to do that, he created a small ocean ecosystem in his room. According to Jacinda, this is where all of his pocket money went: 

“Over time, he built one, then it was two, then three fish tanks, that soon were accompanied by an array of plants and soils.” 

Jacinda encouraged this, as she could see it helped Harper learn about nature, and also take personal responsibility for his part in it. But her encouragement didn’t come without a little parental frustration: 

“I could hardly complain [about the animals he cared so deeply for], but still, the split water and soil on the carpet sometimes drove me a little mad!”

Turning learning into action

Harper’s foray into caring for animals of his own further ignited his passion, and soon he started on an incredible volunteering journey. On a trip to Cambodia and Laos, Harper’s interest in conservation sparked a special visit, Jacinda says: 

“On our trip, it was Harper’s passion that led us to the Elephant Conservation Centre. We spent three incredible days there learning about the importance of saving the Asian elephant.”

While in Cambodia, Jacinda realised that Harper’s passion for animals had led him to develop a critically important quality that we all know we need to encourage in our children: empathy. On the trip, Jacinda witnessed an incredible maturity in Harper as he showed that he cared about many things beyond his own immediate world: 

“Harper cared deeply about things so much greater than himself. Whether it was nature, the plight of the Laos people affected by mines, or the beggars in Cambodia, he was deeply moved.” 

Harper’s action and advocacy didn’t stop with elephants, though. He fervently continued to advocate for all things animals and the planet, from encouraging Jacinda to plant a vegetable garden to organising for a Sea Shepherd to visit his school.

And it didn’t end there. Harper was also actively involved in collecting plastic waste, planting trees, building nest boxes for native wildlife, and advocating for the banning of opera nets (which harm platypus).

The importance of role modelling

In ten years, Harper did more for the environment than many of us ever have - but of course, we’d all like to change that, and we’d especially like our children to achieve more than us. When asked about how she created such an incredible eco-warrior, Jacinda says there are two keys things she believed she did as a parent that really helped: 

“Firstly, from the get-go Matt and I fostered Harper’s interest in the environment and encouraged him to be his best self.” 

“And secondly, all parenting is about role-modelling. Our children learn from us so really it’s about being conscious of our choices and how we live our own lives.”

Harper’s legacy

Devastatingly, at age ten, little Harper was taken from the planet he loved so much when a tree hit the car that he was travelling in with his dad. No words can describe what a tragic loss this was for Jacinda and her family. Or for the world. 

But all of us can take comfort in the fact that while Harper may no longer be here, his legacy can live on forever. And one thing that Jacinda thinks we all need to remember is this: 

“Children have a great capacity to teach us, and often it was Harper that drove the conversations, the inspirational, and the action to do great things. 

“We owe it to ourselves to start really and truly listening.” 

Harper, you may be gone but you will never be forgotten. Thank you for being the ultimate Ethicool kid, and inspiring thousands of others to be just like you. 

To honour Harper’s memory, Jacinda and her family have created an advocacy group called Harper’s Army. Harper’s Army is aiming to pick up 1 million pieces of litter to commemorate what would have been Harper’s 12th birthday on 24th of September 2020. Join them here.

Ethicool wants all little ones to be like Harper! Here are our gorgeous nature-themed kids' books that encourage children to create positive change.


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