If you’ve recently woken up to green issues, you might be struggling to get your family to take an interest. Perhaps you’ve come home from work to find all the lights on again, and paper and cardboard is still getting thrown in the trash. Maybe your teens can’t see the point of turning computers and televisions off, instead of leaving them lazily on standby. You know that constant nagging isn’t going to help … so how can you get your kids switched on (and your lights switched off)?
Lead By Example
If you say one thing and do another, you can’t expect your children to do what you’re telling them! Make sure that you’re engaging in environmentally-friendly behaviours … and let the kids see this.
Ever since she was a baby, Heather, age 5, has watched her parents routinely turn off lights that aren’t needed and toss the day’s newspapers, cans, bottles, jars, and other recyclables into a big, yellow bin – that is, if they can’t find a second life for the discarded items in their own home first.
(Barbara Sprung, Growing Up Green, Scholastic)
Let your kids see you recycling, composting, turning off lights, shutting down electronics, and they’ll pick up the same habits easily.
Getting Kids’ Input
First, ask your kids and teens what they think. Most schools today teach environmental issues, and your children may be all too keen to tell you where they reckon you’re going wrong! Ask for their ideas, and don’t be dismissive of any which you think aren’t realistic.
Try asking specific questions, rather than simply asking “how can we save the planet?” Kids might have creative answers to:
- How could we recycle more?
- How could we save energy around the home?
- How can we make sure we don’t waste water?
With teens, you might want to discuss some of the realities of global warming and other ecological problems.
Putting Kids in Charge
Children love to be given some responsibility. Instead of yelling at your son when he keeps throwing recyclables in the trash, how about putting him in charge of the recycling box? Or taking it in turns to have a “light monitor” to make sure lights are being switched off?
Kids also love to be able to catch adults out in bad behaviour, so putting them in charge could encourage you to ditch your eco-hating guilty pleasures…
With young children, try giving them simple (and educational) jobs like:
- Separating out different types of recyclables – be careful with glass or any sharp edges
- Watering the garden
- Turning off taps and lights
Older children could help out by:
- Creating and maintaining a compost heap
- Looking for products in shops with minimal packaging
- Shutting down electronical equipment properly, rather than leaving it on standby
Green and Healthy
If the effort of encouraging your children to be environmentally responsible still seems like too much work for too little reward, think about this: the greener they are, the healthier they’re likely to be.
Get your children eating fresh, locally sourced (or even home-grown) produce – and you’ll be ensuring they get their daily vitamins and lots of goodies. Better for them, and better for the planet, than additive-and-sugar-filled snacks.
Start walking or cycling to school with your kids, and you’ll save money on gas – plus you’ll be ensuring that they stay active and healthy. (While you’re at it, you ight also want to think about going green on your own commute.)
Green and Well Educated
A lot of environmental topics are great opportunities to educate your kids – not just about the green agenda, but about everything from the water cycle to how big business works.
Whether you homeschool or just want to supplement what your children are learning in school, try tying in their lessons to practicalities like recycling and growing vegetables in the garden. We all find it easier to learn when we focus on something concrete rather than abstract.
There is something about gardening that helps children develop a sense for nature, the cycles of life and the law of the harvest. Planting a garden and then helping the children work, water and later harvest will give them an appreciation for nature, the earth and the environment.
(Wayne Parker, Helping Your Children Become Environmentally Aware, About.com)
Taking it Further
Getting involved in a green project as a family – whether that’s conservation work on a few Saturday afternoons, or a working holiday on a farm – can be a powerful way to engage your kids’ interest.
If that’s too much, how about starting a vegetable patch at home, or choosing a green charity to regularly donate money to as a family? Discuss how your family can go a bit further than simply recycling and turning off taps and lights – and see what ideas your kids come up with!
When birthdays are imminent, you could plan a green party with your kids (Green Kid Parties, in Atlanta, Georgia will organise party stuff for you) – or help them to make a wish list of green gifts.
Books and Websites for Green Kids
There are loads of great books out there aimed at engaging children’s interest on green issues: here are just a few for different ages:
Why Should I Recycle? ($6.99, age 4 – 8) – a picture book for younger children, about a school teacher who takes his class to a recycling plant and answers their questions
True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet ($15.95, age 9 – 12) – a practical and fun book that gives children a hundred different ways to go green
The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet ($14.95, age 12+) – written in an accessible style for teenagers, and offering practical tips about making real change
You and your kids might also enjoy these websites:
Bright Green Kids – UK site with lots of videos, and a chance for kids to send in their own green ideas (whether “weird, wacky, inventive [or] practical”)
Quest of the Ring Leaders – adventure game which teaches kids about recycling
Captain Planet – I remember this cartoon series from when I was a kid! Your children might enjoy the chance to sign up and become a “planeteer” like the teens in the cartoon.
However you choose to get your kids involved, don’t give up on getting them to grow up green: the future is, quite literally, in their hands…
(Image above by woodleywonderworks)