If we are to have peace with the planet, children and adults must become more familiar with the land and resources near where live. The person who knows the land and its inhabitants is the one who will care about natural resources, native plant and animal diversity, and natural beauty.
There is a cost to being in close touch with your local environment: you may realize what we have already lost and what we are still losing. Aldo Leopold, the legendary ecologist and writer, said it best, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives in a world of wounds.” The more you understand about how the earth works - its past history, inhabitants, processes, and interactions – the sooner you will recognize when something isn’t right. As you get to know your world you will know what is being lost, you will see changes, you will feel the loss, and you will know where action is needed. You will be able to educate others and base your arguments to policy makers on knowledge, experience, and facts. That is precisely why all adults and children should have a good “sense of place.”

The Benefits of Paying Attention to Nature

The more you know about your bit of the planet the more you will want to live more lightly on the land. Many people feel that the most meaningful thing they have done for the earth is something they have done close to home, like:

  • Preserve a local wetland.
  • Take a group of children on a nature walk.
  • Shop and eat locally.
  • Plant native trees in a local park.
When you focus on your own community, you can make a big difference. It is good to remember that when you take care of your own creek, you change the world downstream.


Questions to Ask and Answer to Better Understand Your Environment

Start by getting to know the place in which you live.

  • What are the rock layers beneath your feet? How did they get there? Do they contain fossils?
  • What do fossils tell us about ancient environments of the place? Was there a warm, shallow sea there?
  • What influence did the ancient sea have on today’s world?


Glaciers were the most recent great continental ice sheet in North America. 

  • Was it covering your backyard, your school ground?
  • How long ago was it there and where did it come from?
  • How deep was the ice and how fast did it move?
  • What impact did the glacier have on today’s landscape?


  • What is a watershed?
  • How high is your home or school above sea level?
  • What does the water carry with it on its journey to the sea?
  • If all the water is flowing into the sea, how does it get back to your home or school?  


What did your county look like at the time of European settlement 200 years ago?

  • How much land was covered by forest?
  • What trees and other plants grew there?
  • Why are the native plants so important to your home or school area, and what can you do to preserve them?
  • Which plants in the woodland near your home or school can you eat or use as medicine?


What native mammals are found in your home and school area?

  • What mammals have been extirpated from your area? Why did they disappear?
  • Does hunting benefit wild mammals or humans?
  • How can we best assure that native wild mammals will continue to be a part of our natural heritage?

Getting Engaged with Your Community

Are there rare natural habitats in your area – virgin forests, undisturbed wetlands, bogs, fens, prairies, or swamps? Could you visit them? How and why are they protected? If they are not protected, how could you help? Many other questions can be asked about the unique place in which you live. The more answers you discover, the more you will find that all things are interconnected, and the more knowledge and joy you will receive.


Taylor, S.E. (2003). The Tending Instinct: Women, Men and the Biology of Our Relationships. New York: Henry Holt.
Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. Comstock Publishing Company, Inc, 1939.
Hands-On Nature – Information and Activities for Exploring the Environment with Children by Jenepher Lingelbach. Vermont Institute of Natural Science,1986.
The Geography of Childhood by Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble. Beacon Press, 1994.
Children’s Special Places – Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood by David Sobel. Zephyr Press, 1993.
The Urban Naturalist by Steven D. Garber. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 1987
The Field Guide to Geology by David Lambert and the Diagram Group. Facts on File, Inc. 1988
After the Ice Age – The Return of Life to Glaciated North America by E. C.Pielou. The University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Teaching Kids to Love the Earth by Marina Herman, Joseph Passineau, Ann Schimpf and Paul Treuer. Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers, 1991
Green Teacher – A highly recommended quarterly magazine that brings environmental subjects alive. Write or call Green Teacher, P. O. Box 1431, Lewiston, NY 14092. (416) 960-1244.
Twenty-Twenty – Projects and Activities for Wild School Sites by Paul Schiff, Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Biophilia by Edward O. Wilson. Harvard University Press, 1984.
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold – Oxford University Press, 1949.
Paul E. Knoop, Jr. retired after 35 years as Interpretive Naturalist, Director and Education Coordinator with the National Audubon Society at their Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm near Dayton, Ohio (http://aullwood.center.audubon.org/). This center encompasses a 200 acre wildlife sanctuary and runs programs from its education center. Earlier in his career Mr. Knoop was a museum naturalist at the Dayton Museum of Natural History. For 13 years he wrote a weekly column for the Dayton Daily News entitled “The Naturalist”. More recently Mr. Knoop has been writing a weekly column for the Logan Daily News entitled “Wild Neighbors”. He now resides in Laurelville, Ohio where he pursues interests include bird watching, field botany, photography, canoeing, back backing, reading, traveling, environmental education programs for children and adults and helping to preserve ecologically significant landscapes.