Sustainable Living

10 fun activities to teach your kids about sustainable living

Photo by U.S. Army Corps via Flickr
Brenda Jaimason
Written by Brenda Jaimason

Until a certain age, children have a natural desire to imitate Mom and Dad in whatever they do. This natural tendency of children should be taken advantage of in teaching them habits that will carry them through life as environmentally-conscious citizens. In order to help children fully understand and appreciate the natural beauty of planet Earth, it is necessary for parents and teachers to help them understand the nature of environmental decline and the steps that can be taken to fix it. Children are like little sponges; they readily absorb whatever is in their environment. If children see their parents taking steps to lessen their carbon footprint on the earth, they will follow suit.

#10 The Joys of Recycling and Donation

Pay attention to any recyclable items that come into your home. Help your child locate the recycling symbol on glass and plastic items and to place them in the recycling bin. Eventually, your child will recognize this symbol on his or her own.

One great way to learn the value of donation is to help your children choose things to donate on a regular basis. Some families may enjoy this weeding-out process in anticipation of holidays or birthdays. Clothes that are too small can be given away to others who can wear them.

#9 Discourage Excessive Consumption

American culture today is largely the product of excessive consumption, characterized by consumers running out to buy the latest version of everything, whether they actually need it or not. It’s important to teach your children early on how to make things last as long as possible before making a purchase. If your child expresses a desire to purchase new toys or books, encourage him or her to exchange with siblings or friends instead of running to the store. Making a Halloween costume from scraps of fabric or a paper bag and designing handmade wrapping paper are two other ways to encourage the habit of consuming less.

#8 Never Let the Water Run

“Reduce” is known as the first of the “three Rs” of sustainable living: reduce, reuse and recycle. Tell your children to turn off the water when they brush their teeth. Many gallons of water are wasted each year when faucets are left on during teeth brushing. To measure, you can use a container to collect water while your child brushes his or her teeth. Depending on how long you brush your teeth, you can use up to five gallons of water each time. To help keep the Earth’s water supply from being wasted, turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Barney knew what he was talking about.

#7 Upcycling

“Upcycling” is a term used to describe turning something that has reached the end of one life into something else. As an example, empty glass jars can be used to make homemade candles or vases. Egg cartons can be used to grow seedlings for a spring garden or to organize small things. The idea of upcycling can jumpstart a child’s creativity. Don’t be surprised if Princess or Motor Man comes up with new and innovative ways to use something that you never thought of.

#6 GYOV (Grow Your Own Veggies)

One of the most popular tasks around a home for children is participating in the care and upkeep of the family garden. A garden can be a few tomato pots and herb trays on the deck or the traditional garden on the ground. Eating food that they grew themselves will make a very satisfying impact on children’s minds. Using an organic gardening method will give your gardening a double impact. Your child will develop a healthy aversion for the toxic chemicals used on commercial farms and will be made aware of the importance of organic farming and organic food. This method is one of the most important ways to teach children the importance of sustainable and eco-friendly living.

#5 Get Involved With Animals

One way to help children retain the information you’re teaching them is to make it fun for them. Children are especially attracted to animals and will feel a natural desire to keep the environment safe for them. Get your children involved in programs that will help them understand how the choices they make impact our animal friends in negative ways. Disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are excellent reminders of the tremendous ramifications our actions can have on the environment. In discussions with your children about sustainable living, encourage them to come up with alternative methods to solve problems posing a hazard to the animals with which we share the globe.

#4 Compost Away!

Composting provides a natural way to give children a firsthand experience of the decomposition process. It also helps them to be mindful of what they are doing with the garbage they generate on a daily basis. You can start small by using a two-liter soda bottle as your first composter if you want to give your children the chance to make their own compost. You can also build a “worm farm” for worm composting. If you have a large enough garden, you may want to invest in a full-sized composter to provide the nutrition necessary for healthy plants.

#3 Explore Nature Together

Take your children on walks in your neighborhood. If your area has parks or nature trails, take advantage of them for a nature lesson. Make a list of all the different plants and animals you observe on the way for further study. Depending on your child’s age, you can take a photograph for a digital scrapbook or portfolio or have your child draw his or her observation. Children who understand their environment are more likely to appreciate and respect it than children who have no knowledge of the flora and fauna around them.

#2 Read With Your Children

The importance of reading to children cannot be overstated. A daily reading session with your children will help them establish a firm foundation on which to build their adult lives. Books can help children to develop their world view and to educate them on the right way to live. Take your children to the library and introduce them to books about nature. Reading to your children about how to maintain a green lifestyle and sustainability will make an impression on them that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

#1 Prepare Healthy Meals Together

Children love to cook. Take advantage of this natural interest in your children and use it as a springboard for learning about good diet and nutrition. On shopping day, let your children help you pick out the ingredients for the meals of the week. You can even let them help you plan the menu based on the nutritional value of your available food. Cooking together and eating the food that you prepare is a great way to instill the value of good meals in your children at a young age and make them excited about living a sustainable lifestyle.

About the author

Brenda Jaimason

Brenda Jaimason

Brenda is an environmental science major at the University of Oregon. She contributes to many science blogs and hopes to work abroad for a in New Zealand or South America mapping oceans or marine life patterns.

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