CHILDREN are messages we send to the future we will never see. Most men and women I know devoted everything in their early adulthood to one goal: finding someone to have children with. Once they have children, they spend much of their lives at jobs to pay for their children, spend most of their free time teaching or playing with their children, buy a house so the children will have space to play, and keep themselves healthy in order to be with them as long as possible. Most of what we do is not for ourselves, but for their future.
These days, we hear a lot of discussion about the future – more extreme climate events, fossil fuel supplies, economic recession and, of course, life after the current pandemic. Yet discussions of these issues almost never mention children. Warnings about climate change rarely mention all the ways you can teach kids to travel less and use less energy. Many people are quarantined with their children, yet articles rarely talk about how to use this opportunity to teach children.
Thankfully, we don’t have to devote separate lessons to helping children deal with each of these problems; anything that uses less energy will probably also be healthier, which will probably also cut back on climate emissions, which will probably also save money, which will probably also prepare you for an economic crash or pandemic. Self-reliance includes a broad palette of skills, and a general Stoic attitude, that prepare your children for a wide range of potential disasters they might face in life.
For example, you could teach your children how to grow things. Let them put beans on wet paper towels and watch them grow into sprouts. Have them plant seeds in a cup, and watch them check it day after day as it becomes cress. Take them into the garden as you check the plants for disease, prune the trees, weed the soil. Put them to work — there are few greater threats to caterpillars than a well-motivated three-year-old.
That skill dovetails nicely with cooking; buying or growing basic ingredients is much healthier than buying pre-packaged ready-meals heavy with sugar, salt and preservatives you can’t pronounce, and it uses little to no plastic, saves energy, can be widely adapted to a variety of situations, and creates a fun family activity and a way to keep busy and experiment during quarantines. Show your children how to sautee onions, blanch beans, sear meat and make salad dressing.
Show them how to turn one food into another – milk becomes yogurt, fruit can be dried for snacks, vegetables can be pickled. To a child, there are few things more fun than pounding and playing with bread dough. To an adult, there are few things more entertaining than their look of astonishment when you uncover the hidden dough and it’s twice as large as before.
Remember that children find their own routine normal, no matter how we feel about it, and they learn things not because we think they are important, but because we repeat them over and over. Make the lessons into song lyrics, set to some catchy tune they like. Make lessons into a game or a contest.
When they are old enough, show them how money works. Most or our forebears kept their private parts private, but parents taught their children how to manage money wisely; today, almost nothing is embarrassing or forbidden except money. Most people I know were never taught now to do their taxes or choose the right products when shopping, but if you teach your child these things, they will have an edge over most of their peers.
The older they get, the more they should learn how the world is connected. This new gadget all your friends have – where was it made? What is that country like? How much energy does it take to ship it here? How long does it last? Most children like the opportunity to solve a mystery, and would take more seriously a conclusion they’ve reached on their own.
Bring them along as you check on an elderly neighbour, help out during harvest, speak at a neighbourhood meeting. Know that these things, too, are part of being a good neighbour and good citizen, something that decent people do. We are entering a time when we’ll need each other, and we’re all in this together.