Let’s face it – many of the concepts surrounding environmental responsibility can be quite complicated, even for those of us who have some scientific know how. All of that heavy material, combined with legitimate and not so legitimate public debate on the validity of sustainability initiatives can confuse just about anyone – especially children.
Common sense tells us that to raise an environmentally conscious child, we need to start early on in their development. But with such dense subject matter, where is a parent to begin? The answer is easier than you may think.
As with any skill or ideology parents look to instill in their children, environmental responsibility starts with a good example. Parents interested in raising green kids need to start with their own habits, and be sure that their children regularly catch them in the act of loving the earth.
For instance, if you compost, make collecting table scraps and other compostable kitchen materials part of an after meals routine. Get a kitchen composter, and be sure your children see you use it regularly. As your children grow, invite them to help and involve them in emptying the collection bin into a larger, outdoor compost bin. Be sure they understand how the raw materials break down into compost, and how it helps to improve soil and return necessary nutrients to the earth. If your children are young and you are just starting a compost regimen, think about using a worm bin – kids everywhere love the idea of feeding newspaper and banana peels to hungry worms.
Recycling is an activity almost hand-made for toddlers who are big on sorting and filling bins, so be sure to get them in the habit of helping. Set up a home recycling “center” with specified containers for aluminum, plastic, cardboard, paper and whatever else you may recycle. Once rinsed and ready, allow your toddler to place items in the proper bins – not only does the child learn to recycle, he or she learns to differentiate between like and unlike materials. Be sure to explain how recyclables are made into new products. Anytime you buy a product made of recycled material, be it cereal in a box made from recycled paperboard or rubber mulch for a under a swing set, share that information with your child, and be sure to reference how they are playing a role in “making” something new.
Energy and water conservation are also easy concepts for children to learn if they are part of how their parents and caregivers do things. Always turn off the water when you brush your teeth, and teach children to do the same. Even young children are able to help with the laundry – be sure they always see you wash full loads, and rarely, if ever, use the hot temperature setting.
Be sure children see you turn off lights and electronics when you leave a room. When they begin to show interest in turning the lights on and off (about 2, if not earlier), remind them to use electricity only when needed. Let them catch you adjusting thermostats and turning off electronics before bed, or when leaving the house. With older children who play video games or use computers for long periods of time, set limits and encourage them to engage in other activities. Better yet, hold back on introducing energy hogging toys and games when children are younger to curb their interest.
Instead of using brown and individual plastic bags, teach children to cut back on waste by using an insulated lunch box with reusable containers for sandwiches, snacks and drinks. Encourage them to use reusable drink bottles during activities and sports, instead of individually bottled beverages. Buy bulk sizes of snacks, condiments and drinks to reduce household waste and be sure children even at the youngest ages see you put litter and trash in the proper place no matter where you are.
By exposing your children to good environmental habits early on, you can provide the foundation for a lifetime of eco-responsibility and play a part in building a better and cleaner world.
Some great tools for teaching children environmentally responsible concepts:
The Lorax, Dr. Suess
Dora Saves the Mermaids, Nick Jr.
It’s A Big, Big World, PBS Kids Series
Everything Kids’ Environment Book, Sheri Amsel
Child’s Introduction to the Environment, Michael Driscoll, Dennis Driscoll and Meredith Hamilton
Planet Earth Gets Well, Madeline Kaplan
The Amazing Adventures of Annie Adair, A. Hartzell
The Tree Farmer, Chuck Laevell and Nicholas Cravotta
Happy Feet, Warner Home Video
Ferngully – The Last Rainforest, 20th Century Fox
Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series, BBC