Teaching children about the environment – five tips

using water gathered in a water butt to save waterLittle 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 electricitygrowing food with children to teach them about eating locally 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.
green cleaning with children to protect their health and the environmentIf 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.teaching children to recycleIf 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.

Older children could be given sole charge of the can crusher – the best task of all! They can also find out where to recycle items with the Recycle More site.

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.


  1. Joyce on April 16, 2008 at 7:11 am

    What a great list! I love your positive approach. I remember my son, when he was seven, having nightmares becasue his teacher had talked so much about the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the Alaskan coast. The photosw of the oily animals dead on the beach were too much for him at that age. I’m sure the teacher was well-intentioned but it was not appropriate for his age group. Your way is much better.

  2. Fr. Peter on April 16, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Mrs. Green,

    Without going into any details, I have experience of a situation where young people, who were invited in for a chip meal (the only way they would attend) were astonished to find that chips came from potatoes…

    Passing on an awareness and an excitement of the world that we live in to a child is a great gift, and one that will always be with them.

    It is a sad fact that most teenagers can identify dozens of different makes of cars, but very, very few indeed could identify different kinds of trees.

    Regards, blessings and admiration for your efforts,


  3. Mrs Green on April 16, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Joyce,
    Thank you for your popping by again and leaving a comment! I’m sorry to hear about your son’s experience that gave him nightmares. Sometimes we forget, as adults, just how impressionable and sensitive those little souls are. I really feel that a more positive attitude is conducive to meaningful change.

    Peter; always good to see you. I’m afraid your story does not surprise me. We encountered a similar situation when our daughter went to school. Out of a class of 14 peers, she was the only one who could recognise and name a table full of fresh fruit and vegetables. She was also the only one who knew how to hold and use a sieve when they did some baking. Her teacher commented to me that she was clearly the only child in the class who had ever been allowed to help in the kitchen at home.

    These simple, quality moments spent together bring so much joy, as well as teach wonderful life skills.

    Blessings to you both,
    Mrs G x

  4. Leslie on April 16, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I’m already doing some of these with my 12yo granddaughter, as well as doing things with my 2yo granddaughter even though she doesn’t yet understand the concepts, but you’ve given me ideas for doing even more. Our primary goal right now is simply to help encourage the 2yo to be willing to eat a large variety of whole foods, since unfortunately her mother and older sister pretty much eat nothing but heavily processed foods.

    I had to laugh, though. In the US, we call those “water barrels” or “rain barrels.” I thought I had heard most of the words used in the UK that were different than from here in the US, but “water butt” was definitely new to me. My 12 year old gd is at that middle school age where what I call “bathroom humor” rules (anything about certain body parts or bodily functions), and I presume that you know that in the US the word “butt” is primarily used to indicate someone’s backside. So she’ll be tickled to learn that she helped me to build a “water butt” (and I hope to build a few more in a couple of weeks).

  5. Mrs Green on April 17, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Hi Leslie,
    How wonderful that you are teaching your grandchildren such values in their lives. It doesn’t matter that your two year old doesn’t understand the concepts – they are born into this world TRUSTING that what their family do is right. Understanding comes later. For now, she’ll just imitate what you do and that’s fabulous!

    Getting the little one out into nature and showing her the bounty available will hopefully encourage her to try new things.

    The American / English stuff still cracks me up; I’m still finding little gems here and there when I talk to American friends. I won’t even begin to tell you how I figured out what fanny means over there LOL!

    Mrs G x

  6. Melissa on April 19, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Mrs. Green,
    I have a lot to say but one’s waking up and the other is a scary monster (ie very loud…) 🙂 I think these are all great ideas to get children involved. Thanks for a wonderful article!

  7. Mrs Green on April 19, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Hi Melissa,

    Uh oh – scary monster alert! I hope today quietens down for you; must be the full moon tomorrow hyping him up!

    I’m glad the article was helpful for you – let us know which ones you decide to do yourself 🙂

    mrs G x

  8. Melissa on April 26, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Mrs. Green,
    We are going to tackle number 1 – grow something you can eat. We tried this last year and the deer got at it all, but it was a good experience for my son to dig, sow seeds and plant and watch everything grow (and then get consumed by the aforementioned deer). Thankfully we’re participating in a local food co-op this year and we’ll be going to the farm for all of our vegetables as soon as the crops start coming in (again a good experience for him) 🙂
    I have also been working on saving electricity and reminding him to turn out his light when he leaves his room (and the same lesson for his dad too!) 🙂

    Thanks again for a great article! Cheers!

  9. Mrs Green on April 27, 2008 at 3:10 am

    Growing your own food – that’s one of my favourites, Melissa! It’s such a wonderful thing to do with children, especially when you realise that many kids never see a fresh fruit or vegetable.
    Dh is a bad one for leaving lights on too – but he argues that he is now running the kitchen ones off a battery so he can leave them on all the time 😀

    have a wonderful Sunday,
    Mrs Green x

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