For parents committed to green living and environmental concsiousness, the greatest gift we can bestow upon our children — and to the world in which we live — is the spirit, passion and commitment to keeping our planet flourishing.
We all want to ensure that our children are safe, happy and protected, and what better way to do that than by helping them preserve the earth, freeing the air from harmful contaminents and pollution, decreasing our dependence on — and wastefulness of — fuel and finding eco-friendly alternative energy sources.
Between in-home teaching and associations and resources committed to educating children about environmental protection and conservation, it’s easy get your kids out of diapers and off the grid!
From the table to the trees, here are a few easy, at-home tips to get your kids to be green:
The faucet is NOT your friend.
If your children are old enough to wash their hands, they’re old enough to learn about conserving water. And since the ‘magical faucet’ from which water rushes forth is always fascinating to kids, it’s important to start teaching them early about conservation, showing them how to use a pencil thin stream or turn off the water while they’re lathering up their hands or brushing their teeth. These little lessons are habit-forming and will teach your children to respect natural resources, and learning not to waste at a young age will become a lifelong commitment.
I like my Barbie and Legos plastic — but not my bags.
Plastic bags take approximately 1,000 years to decompose, so an easy way to keep the earth healthy is to ditch the plastic and teach your children to bring reusable, cloth bags on your shopping trips. And allowing your children to carry them for you will give them a sense of ownership that they are helping too. Make it fun by calling them your ‘Earth Deputy’ or ‘Plastic Bag Police Force’ so that they make a positive association with eco activities. You can even get kid-friendly bags with bright colors and phrases like ‘I Love the Earth’ to help reading age children make the connection that the earth is something to be cherished and cared for so they can take pride in carrying their cloth bag, and understand what it means. Books such as ‘My Bag and Me’ can also help communcate the benefits of cloth bags in ways that youngsters can relate.
“Mom, you want me to eat what??”
With organic formula and baby food — even homemade alternatives — it’s never too early to get your child on a healthy diet. But it’s also never too early to teach them what eating right means, and educating them on everything from ingredients to organic farming. When you’re at the grocery store, explain what you’re buying and why it helps the environment, and why it’s better for their growing bodies. Show them what labels to look for, and turn it into a game by letting them ‘spot’ the organic choices, so they can feel excited about what you’re getting. That excitement will translate into their eating experience, and help cultivate young adults who reach for organic goodies instead of artificial snacks.
Ready, Set, Recycle!
Recycling is crtical to preservation of the environment, and one of the easiest things to teach your children. It’s also another opportunity to make helping the planet an enjoyable activity for them. The first thing is to make sure your kids know all of the recyclable materials — show them which kinds of glass and metals should be recycled, remind them when they sip from a tin can or when you’re reading a newspaper or opening a cardboard box that those are all things that need to be recycled. Once they can identify what to recycle, you can make it fun for them to do it, offering ‘Recycling Rewards’ for each item they drop into the recycle bin, or encouraging older kids to volunteer in clean litter community groups that recycle trash found on the roadside. If doing their part for the earth is integral to their growth and development as a child or teenager, they’ll make time for environmental efforts throughout their life. But remember that simply tossing recyclables into the can is only one aspect — demonstrating how to reuse paper or draw and color on the back is also important.
According to Karen Farmer, environmentalist and children’s author, “Kids can really feel empowered by participating in the green movement, and they’ll be establishing environmentally conscious habits that will sustain them their whole lives.” But children need experiences outside of the home as well to build a green lifestyle, and fortunately, the list of options is long for getting them involved in groups where they can engage in eco-learning activities.
Here are some organizations to help your kids — from tikes to teens — take part in sharing and sustainability:
AIRNow for Kids is part of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality index pages, featuring sections to help kindergarteners and first-graders, as well 7-10 year olds learn more about pollution and their local air quality.
The EPA’s Environmental Kids Club includes a wealth of eco-friendly features — recycling games, information about endangered species, a guide to reducing greenhouse gases, an Earth Day activity book and much more.
Adventures with Bobbie Bigfoot offers an interactive quiz to help kids understand how food, transportation and other choices affect a person’s ecological footprint in an engaging way that makes learning fun, and critical environmental issues easy to understand.
A Walk in the Woods, developed by the University of Illinois’ Extension Service, aims to help third- through fifth-graders “gain an appreciation of nature.”
EEK!, created by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, offers information geared toward helping youngsters recycle, conserve water, plant trees and learn more about the environmental effects on nature.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Kids’ Pages offers a wide array of nature — and science-oriented — games, brainteasers, stories and downloadable coloring books about the environment.
KidsHealth, a site from The Nemours Foundation’s Center for Children’s Health Media, is a source of extensive information for kids on the importance of eating well, staying healthy, exercise, and dealing with some of the challenges of growing up.
EERE Kids, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site, links kids to information about solar energy, alternative fuels, how to be energy efficient and other important tips that children can learn to incorporate into their daily lives.
All of these in-home and external green resources are important for raising eco-conscious kids but the most valuable message that you can impress upon your children is that they are the future, and the power to heal the earth is in their hands, a charge that should not be taken lightly, and one that will lead to a beautiful tomorrow.
Photo credits: (1) The Academic Foundation; (2) The Florida Department of Environmental Protection; (3) The Meadow Community Primary School