Teaching children about the environment – five tips
Little Miss Green asked me what global warming was yesterday. It was something she heard me mention in a conversation with somebody else.
She knows that Mother Nature doesn’t like us to cut down trees unnecessarily, leave rubbish lying around, or put too many things in the landfill, but I guess she didn’t actually know *why* or how it related to other things that were going on in the world.
When Little miss Green used to go to school, I remember the Head Teacher there saying that she had noticed some of the children were really very worried about Climate Change. It was affecting their childhoods to an extent that they weren’t living a care-free existence, they were genuinely concerned about their future.
I guess much of that might come from reading the newspapers and watching the television; neither of which happens in our home. I find, through experience with the media, that BAD news makes good news; and the emphasis is on doom and gloom. I don’t personally think this is balanced or healthy for a child to be around. There are ways to tell children the truth about situations in the world without making them fearful.
We had a little chat about what global warming was, keeping those things in mind. Little Miss Green is prone to a very active imagination, so I kept it as balanced as I could. I gave her some facts without being alarming (I hope).
I’ve been interested in the environment since I became pregnant, so Little Miss Green has grown up with simple measures like recycling, refusing carrier bags, being aware of how much water we use and saving electricity as ‘normal’ in her life.
Many parents are new to the whole Green Lifestyle ethos, so I thought I’d come up with five tips to get you started on your journey with children. Just bring these steps into your every day family life and answer any questions truthfully, but simply as they come up. Children learn predominantly by imitation, so it won’t be long before you have an Eco-Warrior in your midst!
Truth is, the children seem to take to it better than us because us old farts have a lot of ingrained habit to kick. Our children are clean slates just waiting to learn about meaningful ways of living and eager to please.
1- Grow Something you can all eat. Even cress on an a flannel. Don’t you remember the amazement of watching cress grow as a kid? I can still remember it now.
Once you’ve mastered the art of cress, move onto a few herbs in your kitchen windowsill, and then perhaps one container by the back door with some salad leaves or baby carrots in it.
Encourage your child to take care of their crops with careful watering. This can lead to discussions about where your food comes from and helps delay the ‘instant gratification’ idea that we have all grown accustomed to.
If gardening is something your children have grown up with, then let them help you with weeding, watering, mulching, sewing seeds and allow them a little space of their own to tend to.
2- Kitchen science with green cleaning products. It is safe for young children to clean the bath or sink with bicarbonate of soda for example. Show them how to sprinkle a little onto a sponge and rub away the grime to create a sparkle and shine.
If they are a little older they can use 50/50 water and white vinegar in a spray to shine the mirrors. Scrunched up newspapers is the traditional ‘cloth’ and helps to reuse the newspapers before you recycle them.
Older children might like to experiment with mixing bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) with white vinegar, It fizzes up wildly and can be poured into the toilet to freshen or down the drain to keep clear.
Alternatively, spend some time in the shop looking at the labels of conventional and eco friendly cleaning products. Show your children what to look out for and how to make a responsible choice.
3- Be a detective. Take young children around the home and talk about areas where you can save electricity. Are there any lights left on? Appliances left on standby? Is the pilot light on for the shower?
Slightly older children could be given a specific daily task, such as unplugging the mobile phone charger once it has finished (a shocking 90% of electricity produced by mobile chargers is heat and only 5% actually charges the phone).
Older children could take a meter reading each week for the family. You could have a weekly or monthly discussion about one measure you all agree on as a family to try and reduce your electricity consumption.
4- Recycle Tots will see you either throwing things in the bin or separating items for recycling. Simply letting them see this going on will make it mormalised as they grow older. When they bring you something for the bin explain to them what material it is made from and where you are going to put it.If you don’t have a recycling system set up, let the children help you with selecting and labelling boxes. There are some gorgeous designs out there including segregated stainless steel contraptions, but really you need nothing more than a few empty boxes and some space to store them.
Slightly older children might like to get involved with crushing cardboard, folding newspapers and rinsing out tetrapaks. Then they can put them in the right containers or area for storage.
5- Save water. The simple act of bringing up your children to turn off the tap while they are brushing their teeth can save 5 litres of water per minute. If the entire population of the UK did that, we could save enough water for 500,000 houses!
Encourage your children to put the plug in the sink when they wash their hands instead of running the tap.
Install a water butt (or three) and encourage your children to use these for watering plants, feeding pets and washing patio furniture or the car.
Older children might like to check taps are not dripping after other members of the family have used them and help prepare meals by scrubbing vegetables in a bowl of water (rather than under the tap). Ask your children to select the right sized saucepan for the amount of food you are cooking, so that you only need the minimum amount of water. Alternatively, show them how a steamer works and why it uses less water.
Point out to your children that in the UK, we use about 155 litres of water a day. A person in a developing country might use around 20. You could ask them to imagine what that might be like and start bringing an awareness into your family life that every drop counts.
The most important thing is to have fun with these activities. Don’t make them into some ‘must do’ drudgery. Presenting these lifestyle choices as a gift rather than a chore helps your children to feel a sense of pride about what they are doing. Giving them specific roles within the family helps them to feel important and valued.
Remember to focus on the positive. Don’t talk gloomily about the end being nigh. Instead think about what you are doing and why you are doing it, how you are protecting the planet, wildlife, your health and showing care and respect for your small part of the world.
Cultivating a sense of reverence in your children means they will grow into caring, knowledgeable adults who are good custodians of their environment.