“Will these tadpoles develop before the brook runs dry?” A post on Our Planet x Young Children by Exchange fellow Naomi Alfini

Four year old child in red shirt and a woman with long hair sit outside looking at a monarch butterfly between them.

by Naomi Alfini

I’m coming to this fellowship exchange with a driving question about how adults can cultivate our own emotional resilience and regulation in relation to climate change and the young children in our lives.

Experts seem to agree the best way to work with young children in regard to climate change is to nurture their sense of wonder and love for the nature in their lives. That is foundational to the longer goals of environmental education. “We cannot protect something that we do not love” and “we cannot love something we do not know”, as Richard Louv wrote in The Last Child in the Woods.

But I’ve noticed, even in the midst of enjoying nature with children – splashing in brooks, running through autumn leaves, building snow forts – that I’m often suppressing an underlying sense of dread and uncertainty. Will these tadpoles develop before the brook runs dry? Are the leaves turning unseasonably early? Can the forest handle so many extreme winter thaws and late storms?

We know children, attuned to their caregivers’ affect – our subtle facial expressions and body language – pick up on our discomfort, even when we don’t verbalize it. So how can I, as an early educator, and as a mother, personally grapple with my feelings around this unfolding new reality so that I don’t pass on my own fears and worries? 

How can I, as an early educator, and as a mother, personally grapple with my feelings around this unfolding new reality so that I don’t pass on my own fears and worries? 

To explore this dilemma, I’ll be asking questions and listening to you – families, caregivers, educators – and drawing on current research in the field. I hope to explore mental health topics such as eco-anxiety, toxic stress, grief, resiliency and tools in positive psychology; and systems change, by examining cultural expectations and practices that may help or hinder our resiliency and our ability to communicate, collaborate, and build inclusive, just communities that sustain us all.

I’d like to embed teacher research (how can educators enhance their practice by following the children’s ideas and interests?) into these topics, as well as incorporate what I learn from this exchange into my reflections. I hope to use my current preschool classroom as a learning lab to bring some clarity and direction to our collective work.

I hope you will join me in the conversation.

Naomi Alfini is a VTAEYC Exchange Fellow with a focus on Our Planet x Young Children. Click here to learn more about Naomi and the Fellowship program, and click here to learn more about the VTAEYC Exchange.