Teaching Actionable Sustainability Practices to Young Children
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Habits become established as early as nine years old. That means, by the third grade, most children are firmly established in many of the habits and activities that will carry them through life.
While it’s important to teach a child basic things, like brushing their teeth and making their beds, it’s also wise for parents and teachers to invest in helping their younger children understand sustainability. This can start with classroom teaching and knowledge, but kids don’t tend to learn well with pure theory.
Instead, caretakers should also look for ways to develop actionable habits within their children that reinforce the importance of sustainability. Here are a few suggestions for ways to get started.
Explore and Admire Nature
One of the simplest ways to cultivate a sustainable mindset in a child is to encourage them to engage with nature. This can take place indoors through things like growing plants or watching a documentary, but realistically, sooner or later, you need to move the activity outdoors.
Fortunately, there is no end to the number of things that you can do in nature. Take your kids on a hike. Go camping. Do a nature study. You can even find fun things that aren’t focused on nature and then incorporate a sense of sustainability into the activity.
Geocachingis a classic example of a hobby that requires a willingness to engage with Mother Nature in many different settings. If you use activities that overlap with nature but aren’t directly connected to it, though, make sure to emphasize the sustainable aspects as you go along. For instance, if you’re digging up a cache, point out that you want to do this with special care for the plants and roots in the area.
Embrace the Three Rs Principle
One of the best ways to foster an environmentally thoughtful mindset is by teaching your children about the Three Rs Principle. This includes:
- Reducing the creation of waste throughout our various activities.
- Reusing discarded or unneeded items in a new way.
- Recycling everything that we possibly can when it has no further use
These are basic principles that can significantly impact all areas of life. For instance, when you buy clothes, encourage your children to frequent thrift stores where they can purchase what they need second-hand.
Another option could be getting them involved in identifying what containers and packages can be cleaned and recycled rather than thrown away. By approaching each activity with the filter of the Three Rs Principle in place, you can get your kids thinking about the long-term impact of their behaviors at a very early age.
No matter how careful you are about following the Three Rs Principle, there are going to come times when you need to buy something new. When you do this, you can use it as an opportunity to teach your kids to think twice about what they purchase.
A good example of this could be buying a drink at the grocery store. If you need to get a container of water, challenge your kids to consider the best option. They may want to purchase a pack of convenient plastic water bottles, but you can use that as a chance to inform them that well over a billion plastic bottles are used every day — many of which end up in landfills, the ocean, and other undesirable locations. Then direct the conversation to how they can purchase water in a less resource-heavy way.
You can also encourage your children to opt for alternative materials when something is particularly harmful. For instance, if you’re buying new flooring, you may want to explain to your kids that bamboo flooring is more environmentally considerate while still being ideal for construction projects.
Your yard is an ideal place to teach basic sustainability principles. It’s forgiving and allows your children to get dirty as they engage in eco-friendly work and play.
One of the best ways to weave sustainability into your outdoor adventures is through your landscaping. From choosing the right plants to keeping your soil healthy, many benefits come from sustainable landscaping.
Along with your basic landscaping activities, it’s also always a good idea to make a garden. This gives your children a place to invest their creativity and resources and then directly reap the results of their labor. They can gain a greater appreciation for agriculture and the amount of impact that growing food can have on the earth.
Teaching Sustainability at a Young Age
Maintaining a sustainable mindset requires a lifetime of practice. This training should start as early as possible — ideally before your kids are already forming life-long habits.
This can’t just consist of classroom instruction, either. Parents and other caretakers must look for ways to help reinforce information with action. This can be anything from encouraging an appreciation for nature to memorizing the Three Rs Principle and much more.
By teaching actionable sustainability at a young age, you’re not just helping the planet. You’re also doing your own child a favor by setting them on a positive path toward constructive activity as early as possible. That way they won’t have to unlearn things down the road as they begin to make more decisions that impact the world on their own.