Teaching a child how to be eco-conscious can be challenging because the concept is a bit abstract, but as soon as your baby is born, he or she can begin to develop an awareness and appreciation of the Earth when you make green living part of his or her daily life. Children also naturally love to observe and emulate their parents, so leading by example by being good to the Earth in your daily actions is very impactful. Here are 10 simple ways to get started:
1. THREE R’s.
- When grocery shopping, teach your children how to choose products that have minimal packaging (and take along some reusable bags). We buy in bulk whenever possible which means more food, less packaging and a lower grocery bill. We store bulk items like quinoa, rice, lentils and dried beans in glass jars.
- Replace paper towels and napkins with reusable cloths such as hemp or linen. When you must use paper products, show your children how to take only as many single-use items as they need.
- Help your children discover the benefits of giving back rather than taking or accumulating more. Take your kids to donate gently used clothing, toys and household items to local charities.
- Make good use of scrap paper by having your children use them to create works of art. Encourage them to color on both sides of the paper.
- Instead of using pre-packaged juice boxes or plastic water bottles, pick up a few BPA-free reusable bottles and fill them up before heading out. Lifefactory glass bottles with silicone sleeves are great. We also have some reusable stainless steel food containers such as Lunchbots and PlanetBox and To-Go Ware bamboo utensils on hand.
- Check out books from the local library rather than buying them new.
- Buying gently used items saves money and planetary resources. Freecycle is a grassroots and non-profit program available in many cities that allows people to give or receive recycled items for free.
- Upcycle toys and crafts out of containers, old baby clothes and other household items.
- Create an area in your home for recyclable items. Use different colored bins or allow your child to decorate and label each bin. Have your child help you sort and separate recyclable items and be sure to show your child how to rinse out certain items before placing them in the bins.
- When shopping, read labels and purchase products that contain recycled materials, like bottles, cans, bags, paper, glass and other household items. Show your child the recycle symbol and have him help you identify the symbol on items during trips to the store.
2. GET OUTDOORS. Help your child develop a love and appreciation for nature by getting outdoors regularly and often. Show him the different types of trees, flowers and plants that exist in your neighborhood. Find a local nature trail and when the weather is nice, take a hike together. You can also take a pail along to gather fallen items like acorns, leaves, pine cones, shells and small stones that can be displayed on a nature table or used in crafts. For more ideas, see 10 Outdoor Activities to Connect Kids to Nature.
3. WALK INSTEAD OF DRIVE. When possible, shop and run errands locally. It’s nice to get some fresh air and exercise while saving gas and energy and reducing reliance on fuel. One of our favorite things to do as a family is walking to the farmer’s market every Sunday to buy local, organic produce that we use to prepare our meals throughout the week.
4. CONSERVE. Teach your children to conserve energy by opening up the curtains to enjoy natural light and to turn off lights when they leave a room. Teaching them to turn off the water when they brush their teeth and wash their hands is another great way to conserve.
5. PLANT A GARDEN. Set up a garden at home in the spring for growing organic vegetables and herbs. Children can help plant, water, and care for the garden, watch the plants grow, and enjoy them at meal time.
6. COMPOST. Create a composting area in your home. Items that can be composted include coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, nut shells, leaves and fireplace ashes. Items from the compost can be used in the garden or you can research local community gardens that accept scraps for composting.
7. PREPARE MEALS TOGETHER. Instead of purchasing processed, packaged foods or traveling to a restaurant, prepare meals at home that everyone can enjoy. This not only conserves energy and reduces the family’s carbon footprint, but it also healthier, saves money and is a meaningful way to connect as a family. Read more about this cherished ritual in my post The Family Dinner.
8. GO VEG FOR A DAY. Going meat-free one day a week is a great way for families to save money and to teach children to take care of their health and the planet. According to a recent report more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the factory farmed meat industry. Statistically one of the most highly-effective environmental changes you can personally make is cutting out meat one day a week! Meatless Mondays is a wonderful source of information and recipes to start each week with healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives. There are also several vegetarian recipes on this site.
9. TAKE A FIELD TRIP. Children are innately visual and often learn by seeing what something is all about. A working farm or a recycling center can teach important lessons about sustainability and conservation. Farms that rescue, rehabilitate and give sanctuary to abused animals is also wonderful because when children interact with the animals, they can learn about compassion and reverence for all life. Cleaning up litter in your neighborhood is another impactful way to show children how trash and not recycling certain items can pollute the environment. An everyday trip to the grocery store also provides many opportunities to learn.
10. CALCULATE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. Help your kids learn how their daily activities can be changed just a little bit to make a difference by using a Kids Carbon Calculator.
This post was originally published June 29, 2012.