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How To Teach Your Kids About Sustainability

Jul 22nd, 2021

Teaching kids to be stewards of the Earth is a responsibility we have to pass on to the next generation, but how do we go about doing that?

Here are some ways you can start introducing concepts and creating learning moments in your children's daily lives in a fun, educational and prosperous way. 

How to teach your kids about sustainability

Think about and listen to others

We are always learning more about how the world works and how to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and a large part of this progress is including others’ perspectives in our discussions on the environment.

When we want to teach kids about kindness, patience or compassion, the foundation upon which we build that caring mindset is that we have to be open to listening to others and understanding where they are coming from. This is a life skill that’s important to have no matter what, but it’s especially important when we start to teach children about caring for the environment. 

Essentially, we want children to understand that our decisions can impact the world around us and that we can choose to make those decisions in ways that benefit others. That means listening to others and seeing to understand what their perspectives are, whether the “other” is a person, an animal or a part of the environment.

This can be as simple as saving pollinator plants in a garden rather than digging them up. A simple lesson could be telling your child that these flowers attract bees which, in turn, keep the trees and flowers around us healthy. If we took away the flowers, where would the bees find their pollen, and how could the birds eat the fruit off the trees? 

Of course, children of different ages will understand different levels of this concept, but it’s always a good idea to introduce that caring mindset at an early age! 

Help them observe

It’s one thing to lecture about the benefits of pesticide-free fertilizer or the importance of recycling, but it’s another thing entirely to teach children to be curious and observant of their environment. 

As adults we can see the evidence of human impact on our environment every day, but children don’t always know what to look for. Asking open-ended questions to get them thinking about what they see and how it came to be is a great way to get them thinking!

It’s all about starting small when it comes to nurturing curiosity and identifying cause-and-effect relationships. Ask plenty of open-ended questions that allow children to stop and really think about the answer, such as “what animals do you think live here?”, “how do you think that boat is moving?” or “why do you think the river isn’t flowing anymore?” Use these as a chance to explain the science behind different processes around us and how humans may have impacted these processes. 

This is a lesson in guiding children through a thought process to a learning moment, not a chance to trick your kid into a lecture on fossil fuels. Asking these questions not only encourages children to become more observant of the world around them, but it gives them a chance to recognize how humans impact the world around them.

Allow them to explore their surroundings

It is because of curious minds and a desire to learn that we have much of the knowledge we have today, so it’s important to instill a natural sense of wonder into children at a young age!

Devote time to exploring the natural world with your children so that they are exposed to new and exciting environments. A walk in a rainforest, a stroll on the beach, a swim in a river or even a picnic in a butterfly garden can stoke curiosity and create learning moments that are both educational and fun. 

But don’t stop there! Add to the knowledge by acting on it in beneficial and educational ways. Just had a picnic in a beautiful park? Great! Here’s how picking up litter can keep the environment clean, beautiful and healthy! Did you visit a museum and learn about our clean drinking water? Fun! Now we know why we shouldn’t let the garden hose run too long, or why it’s important to conserve the water we have. 

Exploration leads to exposure, which leads to curiosity, which leads to action-oriented learning moments, and it can be done anywhere, any time.

Start small

We now know that a handful of large corporations are the ones responsible for over a third of the world’s carbon emissions, but it’s hard to teach children about sustainability if we only focus on these big, lofty issues. Starting small and local is a great way to introduce sustainability concepts to children, as these local perspectives end up being tied to global issues in the end anyway.

For example, say a piece of forested land is clear-cut to make way for a new road. This road means you use less gas to get to the city, but it also means that the animals and birds that lived there had to find a new home. There are obviously costs and benefits, and connecting those to your personal life can open up later conversations on deforestation, transportation and animal conservancy. 

Don’t scare them!

The last thing we want to do is make sustainability a scary responsibility to be burdened with all our lives. Rather, we want to teach children that yes, there are problems in the world, but we can do our part to solve those problems! 

By setting an example of a life of good habits, children can see that living sustainably is not just attainable, but also easy and fun. Involve kids in composting, gardening, fruit-picking, cooking and recycling as you would any other everyday activity and they will come to see it as a normal part of life. Explain the reasons for picking up litter, using reusable items or saving water, and teach them to be responsible stewards of their own little environment. 

Whether you’re introducing concepts of clean energy to teenagers or explaining how flowers grow to toddlers, these skills and teachable moments are excellent segues into conversations about the environment and about sustainable living!

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/JillWellington

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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