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Activities for Teaching Kids About Sustainability

Apr 20th, 2023

Teaching the next generation about sustainability doesn’t need to involve apocalyptic predictions or in-depth lectures on our carbon footprint. 

It can be as simple as collecting rainwater, picking up some produce from your local farmers market or taking a trip to your nearby thrift store. Sustainability can also be taught to kids through concepts like listening to others, observing their world and exploring their surroundings.

Here are some easy ways you can teach your kids about the virtues of sustainable living through simple, daily activities! 

8 educational & sustainable activities for children

Visit a botanical garden

A botanical garden is a great place to go for a variety of lessons and new experiences — not just sustainable ones. You could focus on bird watching or looking for insects. You could spend the day cataloging seeds and cones from different trees or finding similarities between different families of flowers. You could have picnics, long walks, scavenger hunts, biology lessons… you name it!

At the heart of sustainability and an eco-friendly lifestyle is a respect and love for our planet and the environment, and what better place to see the beauty of the natural world than at a botanical garden? Point out how carefully the gardeners care for the plants, and how beautiful the gardens are without trash and clutter. Take some time to learn about useful plants and how they benefit animals, insects and birds. Identify endangered species and what’s threatening them in the real world. 

All in all, use your trip to the gardens to instill a love for nature that will grow along with your child throughout their life!

Harvest rainwater

Fresh water is not an infinite resource, and it’s important to teach each and every generation that the life-giving liquid should be protected and cared for. 

Harvesting rainwater is a fun way to get kids thinking about how they can use what they already have to solve problems and create solutions. Collecting rainwater is just one such example!

If you have access to a patio or balcony, set up a bucket or jug with a funnel to collect rainwater. After a good rain, use the rainwater to water an indoor plant or a seedling you’re trying to grow. 

Bonus activity: you could also measure the collected rainwater for a lesson on weather and precipitation! 

Visit a farmers market

Learning where our food comes from is good for all of us, young and old. 

Bring your kids to a farmers market with a list of groceries and guide them through the process of identifying the produce, selecting the pieces and interacting with the farmer to purchase the food. You could add complexity to this activity by asking the farmers to explain how they grow certain vegetables, or how long it takes them to produce the vegetables you’re buying that day. 

Buying food from a local vendor is a great way to show kids that there’s more to food than its appearance on the grocery store shelf. There are people behind the types of produce we buy, and those people are part of our very own neighborhoods and communities. 

It’s a big concept that will, depending on how old your kids are, probably take some time to really settle in. In the meantime, though, it’s excellent exposure to local communities!

Watch educational videos on a rainy day

Sometimes, all we have the time or energy for is putting on some educational videos. And that’s okay!

Here are a few kid-friendly educational videos you can save for a rainy day that will teach kids about climate change, the planet and the importance of sustainability.

Mend a piece of clothing or fix an old toy

Children learn by watching and seeing how us adults interact with our world and deal with problems that arise. And, if we show them that it can be fun and easy to repair broken clothes or toys, they will remember that!

Use a broken toy or torn piece of clothing as an opportunity to show your kids that just because something is broken, it doesn’t mean it’s at the end of its life. It can be fun to fix it up, too! You can use craft supplies to paint over a scratch, glue snapped pieces back together or lash knots in snapped cords. Teach your kids how to sew a patch over a hole in a blanket or stitch a small hole closed on their favorite T-shirt. 

Whatever the problem, there are plenty of ways you can approach the task with your children, regardless of their age and abilities. After all, you’re not necessarily focusing on the skills themselves, but rather on the mindset that we adopt toward things that are seemingly broken. 

Go to the thrift store

Thrift stores are much more mainstream than they were prior to Macklemore’s popular “Thrift Shop” song that released in 2012, but they’re still an important piece of the second-hand and pre-loved world of sustainability. 

Things don’t have to be brand new for them to hold value, and a trip to a thrift shop is a great way to instill that lesson. Make a trip to your local thrift store and allow your child to look through their wares. Pick out a toy or look for a Halloween costume, or maybe find a fun item to give to a parent or friend as a gift. Browse through their used books for your library at home, or snag a pair of light-up shoes that some exhausted parent has already been defeated by. 

Thrift stores not only show kids that used items can be just as valuable as new ones, but they also learn how to be creative and express their individuality without being constrained by trends, peer pressure and the need to spend a small fortune. It’s a treasure hunt where everything costs less than a single pair of shoes from a retail agent, so let them go wild!

Make recycling fun

If you recycle at home, make it fun by assigning colorful bins to different recyclable items. 

Teach your kids how to identify what different items are made of and whether or not they match the items that go in each respective bin. Print pictures of plastic, metal, glass and paper products that your city’s recycling program accepts and stick them on the bin to make it easier for your kids to identify qualified items. 

You could also add a bin for compost materials, or even one for items that can be donated to thrift stores. Whatever you choose, have fun with it and use it as an opportunity to instill the values of recycling into your child’s daily life!

Plant a garden

Another great way to teach your child about the natural world and our connection to it is by planting a garden. 

Now, if you don’t have a yard or balcony to plant a garden, there are still plenty of herbs you can grow right in your kitchen. Growing something you’ll eventually eat is an excellent way to involve your child in every step of the farm-to-table process and familiarize them with our reliance on farmers, nature and the resources the planet provides. 

Whatever you decide to focus on in the sustainability realm — whether that be recycling, local farming, water conservation or second-hand items — there are plenty of ways you can involve your children in activities they can learn from. Tailor your lessons to their developmental level and interests and, if nothing else, they will remember your own attitudes toward sustainability for the rest of their lives.

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/juren7981

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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