Children are like sponges - they soak in everything they can about the world around them to try to learn their place in society. Children have the highest capacity for learning while their brains are still moldable and building new connections every day.
However, in addition to learning ABCs and 123s, children soak up other types of knowledge at home. By modeling themselves after their parents, siblings, and other family members and friends, children learn habits that can last through adulthood. Children are also influenced by their peers, advertisements, and society at large.
Sustainability and the impact of climate change can be hard to explain to adults – but even harder to convey to children. Keep reading to find a few steps you can take with your children today to ensure a brighter tomorrow for them and the Earth!
Teach Them the ‘Why’ Behind the Action
Everyone knows a child’s favorite word is usually “Why?”. Kids are curious and learn tons of new information each day.
Providing the reasoning for certain eco-friendly habits is important. Kids are more likely to take on a new task if they understand what makes it important. You can show this to your child in many ways.
For example, take them to the beach or local park and pick up trash. Then you can explain to them why it’s so important not to litter and to recycle. Naturally, children always think of their own questions to ask. So, it’s important to keep an open dialogue and allow children to ask questions, too!
Kids should get outside regularly for so many reasons – exercise, a chance to socialize with peers, and more. When kids get out into nature, they connect with it more. Your child is going to learn more going on a walk through a conservation center than watching a video on why conservation centers are so important.
Starting a home garden with your kids can be a great way to get outside and teach them the importance of sustainable living. You can start an at-home vegetable garden to show them the hard work that goes into the food bought at the store. You can plant flowers loved by pollinators, like bees and hummingbirds, to teach your kids the pollination process and its importance. Hands-on learning is always an effective way to get kids engaged!
Make Sustainable Habits Fun to Participate In
Children love games and challenging themselves in new ways. For a fun way to encourage more sustainable habits, make them a game!
For example, you could have a poster board that gets a point every time the child turns off the lights of the room they left. Once they rack up a certain number of points, they could choose a prize! Or, set timers for your child’s shower, and make it a game to see who “beat” their previous time. This encourages them to use less water while keeping it fun!
Do the Math
For older children or teenagers, look at the electric bill together. Most electric bills provide you with information about how many kWh you are using. Some even provide comparisons between your electric usage and others in your area. By showing children the math of how much money unsustainable practices cost, they will realize that eco-friendly habits also save money. This is especially effective for teenagers who will be heading out on their own soon!
Practice with Portions
Food waste is extremely common and bad for our environment. This can be hard to explain to kids who are picky eaters or have a small appetite and frequently throw away perfectly good food.
Some parents may encourage or force their children to finish their plates for this reason. However, these behaviors can cause a child to become out of touch with their natural appetite and overeat, which can cause issues.
Instead of asking for clean plates, get your kids involved in plating their food. Ask your child to pick out the amount of food they believe they will eat. It might take a few tries, but soon your child will begin to understand how much food they can eat in one sitting and only take that amount.
This is great to prevent food waste while also teaching children healthy eating and portion control!
Make Birthdays and Holidays More Meaningful
Birthdays and holidays mean lots of gifts, especially for children. However, everyone knows the feeling of getting a bunch of stuff – only to use a small portion of it. The rest sits in a closet and is a big waste!
Consumerism is pervasive today. The more we demand, the more factories need to produce to keep up, which can affect the environment negatively in so many ways.
So, encourage smaller birthday and holiday celebrations. Instead of buying toys or clothes, ask attendees to donate what they can to a charitable cause. You can have the child pick a cause they are passionate about!
Even better if it’s a physical donation, such as dog toys for a kennel or blankets for a homeless shelter. You can take your child to the location when you drop off the donated items to show them what a special difference it makes!
Instead of buying your children hundreds of dollars of toys and electronics during the next holiday season, use that money for something more special. You can use that extra money to plan a special trip to the beach, camping, or a museum. Experiences are much more valuable than material items, and they’re better for the environment, too.
Raising kids is no easy task – but it’s incredibly rewarding. Perhaps the most rewarding thing about raising children is knowing you are teaching them the skills and habits they need so they can become responsible and kind people in adulthood.
It’s never a bad time to start teaching your kids sustainable habits. In adulthood, they will feel good about their choices and (in a lot of cases) save money by living more sustainably. After all, the Earth is our only home – and we want to make sure our children can enjoy it for generations to come.