Children are sponges to our value systems, so it stands to reason that they’ll emulate our environmental attitudes and actions. If we don’t litter, they won’t litter. If we refill reusable water bottles, they’ll refill reusable water bottles. If we carry our own bags while shopping, they won’t find anything strange about carrying their own when they shop someday.
But how do we actively raise Eco-Minded children? Let’s face it, children are also lazy, prone to stuffing their garbage beneath furniture cushions instead of in a wastebasket. They grab a new cup each time they want a drink instead of reusing the same cup. They are easily influenced by commercial values, begging us for every new toy, movie and sugar cereal they see on the Disney Channel.
Forming and molding our children’s environmental consciousness is a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. To raise our next generation of environmental activists and conservationists, here’s a list of activities to get you started:
1. Teach children where things come from. Tour a farm, grow a garden, participate in a community garden. Explain to children how food grows and is harvested. By knowing how we depend on the planet for our food, children will understand why we need to take care of soil and water.
2. Teach children where things go. Take them to a landfill or water plant. Demonstrate how composting works or how the sewer system flows. By understanding that things don’t “disappear” when we’re done with them, children will appreciate the purpose of recycling and reusing.
3. Let children play outside. Take them to a park, nature preserve or hiking trail. Step back and let them turn over logs and watch ants at work. Let them collect sticks and chase butterflies. By spending unstructured time in nature, children will learn to love it and respect it while exploring. We all love familiar spaces, give your kids a chance to become familiar with the great outdoors.
4. Let children outside. Sound redundant? One of the greatest “stress relievers” is spending time outside in nature. Research suggests that playing outdoors helps children with ADHD, ADD, anxiety disorders and depression. Teach your children that people can feel better if they “commune with nature.”
5. Let children play outside. With childhood obesity and diabetes reaching alarming rates, we need to promote healthy lifestyles. Playing outside keeps children active. It doesn’t take a lot of coordination, skill or money to enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, swimming or cross-country skiing. Help your children engage in outdoor activities that they can enjoy for an entire lifetime–and enjoy these activities as a family. Outdoor sports are generally uncompetitive and easy to work into your schedule. The most active environmentalists and conservationists have a history of enjoying outdoor sports like hunting, fishing and camping.
6. Call things by their names. One of the most profound ways to instill respect and admiration for something or someone is to use proper names. It’s easy for a kid to take a potshot at a “bird” with a BB gun. It’s tougher when they know that “bird” is a robin whose nest they’ve found and whose pretty blue eggs they’ve discovered. Learn the names of plants, animals, bugs and birds together.
7. Engage your kids in saving the environment. Enviro-Girl’s children are responsible for helping keep the yard, fields and ditches picked up around their property. They recognize the trouble and mess litter causes and they understand that people need to help clean it up. Her children also take charge of recycling and compost. Even her 5-year-old knows that paper goes in a separate bin from garbage and banana peels go on the compost pile, not in the trash can.
8. Involve your kids in helping cook, select and harvest food. Enviro-Girl’s sons love eating strawberries and raspberries–straight out of the patch. They leave their play to pick their own snack on a hot June afternoon. They take pride in helping her plant, pick, and wash & snip beans them for dinner. They’re excited to share with their family the squash they chose at the farmer’s market.
9. Explain to older kids your environmental choices–they’ll get it, really. Enviro-Girl’s oldest understands that gas costs money and cars cause pollution. He gets that she won’t drive him across town to the store just to buy one thing, but that the family “clusters” their errands and he’ll have to wait until the next time they drive that direction. He appreciates that filling his water bottle and reusing a bag means less pollution. He has learned that buying used things save money and the planet.
10. Watch nature programs. PBS, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel offer some incredible programming that entertains and educates. TV can teach your children about coral reefs, alligators, mountains and elephants. TV can also build an attitude of conservancy in our children. Even Arthur addresses environmental issues in ways that small children grasp.
11. Read books about nature. The nonfiction stacks at your public library offer an amazing selection of books on every topic imaginable.
12. Keep living the Green Life in front of your children. Join a CSA, ride your bike or walk to your destination, grow a garden, use fewer chemicals, and open the curtains instead of turning on lights. Tell your children that you’re donating to Greenpeace or the Sierra Club and why. These actions will sink in–maybe not today or tomorrow, but in the long run your behavior will rub off on your children.
What things do you do to instill an environmental consciousness in YOUR children?
**None of the children portrayed in this post were harmed in any way during the development of this post. The children featured are the sole property of Enviro Girl.