Can Your Child Love Nature Too Much?

By Jensen Montambault, The Nature Conservancy

Raising a young conservationist is a whole lot more than making bird feeders out of used plastic bottles and foisting them on grandparents and unsuspecting neighbors. It’s an agreement to live with nature like an emotional equal, as part of the family.

Our four year old, for example, loves “baby pine cones.” I mean LOVES them. She brings the small hemlock cones scattered around our yard into the house by the fistful, cradles them, sings them lullabies and tucks them into bed.

But this bucolic vision ended the morning there was no space to make breakfast because the entire kitchen counter was covered in baby pine cones. It was too much, even for two parent-ecologists like us who usually appreciate locally-sourced decor.

“You canít bring in any more pine cones,” her father told her.

Tears, real tears, gushed. I had to throw the cat a life jacket before flipping the eggs.

“But I can’t let them sleep outside,” wailed the young conservationist. “They will be cold and lonely.”

Her dad tried the logic angle: “If you fill up the house with baby pine cones there won’t be any place for us to sleep and then we will be the ones sleeping out in the cold.”

“We have a tent,” countered the young conservationist.

He tried the scientific method: “Hemlocks are ‘r-selectors,’ which means they make countless pine cones so that even if some get eaten or some wash or rot away, some will make it to be adult trees. There is no way you can rescue them all.”

“Not these baby pine cones! I can count them all.” The young conservationist raced outside and planted herself on the walkway. Her dad joined her around two-hundred to try the habitat approach. “Honey, we like to live in the house, but the pine cones like to live out here. It’s where they have everything they need to grow.”

“This is their house?” wondered the young conservationist. “But it is muddy.” We had a wet, heavy late February snow. Icy patches hung on grimly to the north of the deck.

“Besides,” said her dad, “by the time you finish counting these pine cones, the tree will make more. It’s a renewable resource.” The young conservationist slowly came inside.

That night, after her dad went to put her one-year-old sister to bed, the young conservationist and I fixed her lunch for the next day. She pulled out a handful of baby pine cones she had been hoarding in her lunch box.

“Do you think that the pine cones really like to live outside? Is it really their house?” she asked me.

“Well,” I asked her, “what do plants need to grow?

“Dirt, water, sunshine and air,” she answered promptly; they had been studying plants at pre-school. “But outside there is just mud.”

“Mud is dirt and water. It will dry out.”


“I’m not sure we get quite enough sunshine in our house.”


“Do you want to plant your pine cones?” I asked her.

“At night? In the dark?”

“Why not? There is a moon,” I replied. And that is how we ended up spending the evening, tossing cups of baby pine cones into the yard and chanting, “Grow! Grow! Grow!”

The next morning, her dad asked where all the pine cones went.

“Home,” replied the young conservationist. We had made a huge leap in understanding that it’s possible to truly care about something with very different needs from your own. And even when it is not aesthetically pleasing it is still beautiful to live side-by-side with functioning nature.

Jensen Montambault lives with her husband, also an ecologist, and two pre-school aged daughters, who they hope will love nature, in Charlottesville, Virginia. A conservation scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s global program, Jensen has nearly 20 years of experience working with environmental conservation in the Americas, Africa and the Pacific, as well as a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary ecology from the University of Florida. She also enjoys tackling home improvement projects and playing outside.

(Image: Pine cones for lunch? Source: Jensen Montambault.)


Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

Only if your son comes in the door and whips a frog out of his pocket and say's "Look mom what I found"! Thankfully the frog was OK and able to hop away safely after I told my son that we couldn't keep it. To his great disappointment in asking why? I simply replied that his mother would be worried sick if she called him in for dinner, after his play time and he never came home again! My son said hurriedly...I'll be right back! And ran out the back door. Five minutes later upon his return. I said to him, Where did you bolt out of here to? He said "I took him back to where I found him, so if his mom called him, he would hear her". Simply precious!!!.......I thought to myself.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

What do you mean by 'too much'?

Victoria McFarlane
Past Member 5 years ago

Very good. Thanks.

susan k.
susan k5 years ago

Children are our future encourage there love of nature , show them the beauty , Teach them to enbrace nature by embracing it too .

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

Aww I loved this story. No, she didn't love nature too much. she just needed a deeper understanding :)

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W5 years ago


Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

Great story. If these are the type of issues you have with your kids, then you've got it made--what a sweet, compassionate child.

Jon Fisher
Jon Fisher5 years ago

What an adorable story, thanks for sharing, Jensen!

yana dimitrova
yana dimitrova5 years ago

March 12, 2012
HSI Welcomes L’Oréal/EPA Collaboration to Advance Non-Animal Alternatives for Product Testing

Humane Society International/Europe

The way of the future. Maggie Bartlett/NHGRI

Brussels—Humane Society International/Europe welcomes a new research collaboration between cosmetics giant L’Oréal and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. This alliance serves as a milestone towards animal-free safety testing. Cosmetic ingredients will be evaluated using EPA’s Toxicity Forecaster, ToxCast, made up of over 700 ultra-fast non-animal tests, to understand their potential impact on processes in the human body that lead to adverse health effects. However, HSI warned that the EU must act quickly to increase its own research funding and infrastructure in this area to keep pace with the United States and other nations or risk losing out on an exciting technology revolution.

L’Oréal is providing EPA with $1.2 million in research funding and cosmetic ingredient safety test data to expand the types of product chemistries assessed under ToxCast. EPA will compare the ToxCast results to the L’Oréal data to determine whether the existing ToxCast test methods are sufficient for use in the safety assessment of cosmetic ingredients.

Help create a future without animal testing.

Troy Seidle, director of research & toxicology, Humane Society International/Europe, said: “With the EU’

Cortney Brown
Cortney Brown5 years ago

A very good way of explaining it, that was awesome thank you:)