Worsening global warming and natural disasters have made climate crisis awareness and activism an important responsibility for all ages. But even for adults, sustainability is never a simple topic. So while this issue is incredibly important, it is one of the most challenging topics to discuss and introduce to our kids. So, where do we start?
First of all, knowing what is under the big umbrella of sustainability will be helpful in teaching children sustainability. In essence, sustainability is having a clear grasp of our impact here on earth and the future generation. From recycling to reusing to simple lifestyle changes, there are plenty of ways to include our kids in the mission of saving the planet. And it’s important to talk to your children about sustainability from a young age at home. Consider these 10 tips for steps to improve your process of teaching sustainability.
01. Recycle + Separate The Rubbish Together
Recycling is an extremely fun activity for both parents and children if done the right way. You may start by teaching kids how to segregate waste. Put picture labels on colorful trash bins. You and your child can cut out pictures from magazines such as plastic bottles, coffee cups, fruits, french fries, and basically, whatever you usually consume at home. Paste the labels on each bin and teach your kids to put their garbage in the right bins.
In sorting garbage, children become aware of concepts such as “biodegradable” and “non-biodegradable” items. It also creates a perfect opportunity for teaching kids about recycling. Find out if you have community recycling drives or shops where your kids can “earn” some cash by bringing their recyclables. Going to shops like this will encourage them to collect more sustainable products. Additionally, it teaches them the value of recycling.
02. Get Creative With Reusing, Repurposing + Upcycling
Constant recycling is a gateway to teaching kids about the importance and beauty of reusability. Telling children what to do and showing them how are two totally different things. While explaining how reusability is as important as recycling, you could use reusable shopping bags to prove your point. You may even ask your kids to draw or paint on reusable shopping bags, especially those made of light-colored cloth. Art activities like this will develop both their creativity and love for the planet.
Once the reusable shopping bags succumb to wear and tear, your children can also do some mending on the bags by sewing or putting patches on them before finally throwing the towel on them. A little sewing here and there will not only help children reuse bags but will also bring out the little fashionistas in them. In the future, they might even think of ways to creatively reuse (or “upcycle”) worn shopping bags.
Teach kids that creativity and resourcefulness is like magic that they can use on all other stuff that they have been thinking of throwing away. Overall, you should be training your kids to think “Can I fix this? Can I use this again?” before putting anything in the trash.
03. Reduce The Use Of Plastic And Paper
To complete the 3Rs of sustainability, children should also learn to “reduce” the amount of waste they generate. You can start by encouraging kids to choose to use items that can be used more than once. On the flip side, you should also encourage them to reduce the use of plastic.
Completely eliminating the use of plastic is not feasible for most households, but reducing the use of it is absolutely possible. For example, use reusable cups instead of plastic or paper cups. Avoid the use of plastic straws as much as you can. Remind your kids that a piece of paper has two sides and that it is possible to use the other side as a scratch paper. You and your kids can also make art pieces out of used paper. Remember that you must lead by example, so cut down on waste and see how your kids will effortlessly follow after you.
04. Create Fun Ways To Conserve Energy
Turning off lights that are not in use is a simple practice. But you can make conserving energy more fun for your kids by assigning “points”, which they can use for privileges like choosing what to watch on Friday’s movie night. You will be amazed at how much kids are willing to do for brownie points. Kids can be rewarded for never forgetting to turn the lights off or turning the tap off while brushing their teeth. While these small games may not be a hit for most, some parents even take it to greater lengths by having a “who finishes showering first” game to teach their children how to save water.
05. Start A Compost
Waste, as the name suggests, is never a good thing. However, having a compost can teach children how waste can be made into something good. Children can be very hands on when doing this and it will certainly build a different level of connection between them and nature. If you have smaller kids, you may opt out of the backyard compost and start with something more manageable like a glass jar filled with leftovers, paper, or rainwater. As your kids witness the slow process of decomposing, you may start teaching them about how plastic is definitely not fantastic!
Starting a compost is also a great avenue to talk about food wastage with your kids. A lot of children do not know that food wastage is something that hurts the planet. Seeing how leftovers are constantly thrown into the bin and into the compost will make your kids think twice about saying no to that vegetable or fruit you served for dinner.
06. Keep A Small Garden Together
Let the kids fall in love with nature. This can start with several pots of plants and may eventually lead to a full-blown greenhouse. If you are not a green thumb, you can do simple things like going on a picnic in the park so that your kids can appreciate the plants and trees. Appreciating nature is a big step in instilling respect and protection for our planet.
Anyway, if you do decide to plant some greens at home, make sure to keep your kids involved. Take out those colorful pots and let them have fun harvesting what they have planted by incorporating these to your meal plans. You could even take it one notch higher and plant a tree. No matter how tiny your garden is, it makes your home more eco-friendly and it has huge benefits for the environment.
07. Write A Nature Diary
While you’re starting your garden, why not let the kids keep a nature diary as well? They can take photos, or even better, draw whatever they see in the garden. Researching more about these plants or animals (even worms) will let them learn a thing or two about the food chain and how every creature, up to the tiniest one, is essential.
For a long-term project, writing about the weather in their nature diary is not entirely a bad idea. The kids might take notice of extreme weather conditions or drastic changes that are caused by the earth being damaged. Your kids can spice up their nature diary even further by documenting all their eco-friendly activities.
08. Watch Nature-Related Shows (+ spend time in nature together)
Take advantage of a rainy afternoon when your supposed trip to the mall gets canceled. Use the time to watch some shows that teach about sustainability and climate change. There’s always something new and worth watching whether it’s on Disney Channel or Netflix.
You may ask your children to pay attention to environmental problems discussed in the shows and what we can do to solve them. You can even turn this lazy afternoon into a quiz show by asking some questions and giving your children incentives each time they give a correct answer. If your child is one who prefers reading to watching, then you may read with them instead.
09. Make DIY Cleaning Products
Besides being a simple and affordable activity, making homemade cleaning products is outrageously fun for kids and kids at heart. There are numerous recipes for soap and detergent products that use sustainable and easy-to-find ingredients. This could be a great activity for older children. Young ones can help out, too, as long as they don’t touch or handle any dangerous chemicals.
Kids will feel like they are in a science class while you are all just in the kitchen whipping, pouring, and doing some magic with empty containers and natural materials lying around your house. Your kids will not only enjoy the whole process but will also become aware that they are capable of making their own cleaning products. Plus, they’ll even be more proud of themselves when they use their homemade products for cleaning the house later.
Also, you can try other DIY projects such as making different toys and art supplies instead of buying them at the store
10. Donate Or Sell Pre-Loved Toys Or Clothes
Christmas is fast approaching and there’s no better time to teach your kids the value of caring for others by giving gifts to the less fortunate. Your children surely have unused clothes they have outgrown, or books and toys that don’t even see the light of day anymore. “Having less means giving more to the environment” is the lesson you wish to impart. Of course, there is also the joy of sharing with other kids or making a small fortune should you decide to sell rather than donate. There are numerous websites or applications that can aid you in making this activity a success.
Bonus: Read storybooks about the environment and the earth
Get your kids engaged in sustainability using fun storybooks that teach children about the planet, the problems we are facing and what we can do. Illustrated books draw their attention much better and they are more likely to understand.
We still have a long way to go before sustainability becomes mainstream, but we can help by making it part of our lifestyles. Starting children young is one of the best things we can do to help the environment. With enough creativity and commitment, you’ll find that there are more than a thousand ways to teach children about sustainability without the need to leave your home.
You can start with the 3Rs and move on to much more fun activities like starting their own mini garden and keeping a nature diary. For more ways on how to further help the planet and make sustainability a lifestyle, check out the TerraMovement website. Remember, if we look after our planet, it will look after us as well!