5 Tips for Teaching Kids About Sustainable Living

Teach your kid how to compost properly, and he can use that skill for life. See more green science pictures.
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In the new millennium, being a resident of planet Earth means you have more of a responsibility than ever to take care of your home. As our population grows and natural resources become more depleted, it's up to us to do our part to find and use alternative fuels, recycle our papers, plastics and metals, and in general, lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

And it doesn't stop with us -- it's up to us to guide our children in the same direction to help ensure our planet's sustainability for future generations. If you believe that children are our future, then you indeed need to teach them well and let them lead the way.


Read on for five tips on teaching your children about sustainable living and then help them put these lessons into practice so they can be good stewards of the Earth.

5: Lead by Example

Using the motto "Do as I say and not as I do" has to be one of the most irresponsible parenting tactics on Earth. Not to mention fruitless, because one thing we know is that kids mimic their parents' actions, from simple mannerisms and things we say to more serious choices, like smoking cigarettes.

This means that the responsibility for setting an example with actions is placed squarely on the heads of adults. If you want to teach children about sustainable living, then you have to practice it yourself. Recycling, using less water and power, even the car you drive all send powerful messages to your children. And along the way, be sure to use your words as well as actions to get the message across.


4: Make it Fun

boy watching elephant
Many zoos have programs that focus on sustainable living, too.

For kids, especially younger ones, one key to teaching them anything is to make it a fun. Viewings of NOVA episodes may be a little dry for the youngsters, but perhaps a showing of "March of the Penguins," or "Planet Earth" might grab their attention a little better.

Children have a special affinity toward animals, and viewing the world through a furry or feathery lens might be a little more provocative for their young minds. As you watch with them, teach your kids that Mother Nature and the animal kingdom depend on us and our choices to help them live healthy lives. These early, basic lessons will help ingrain in kids a big-picture responsibility as they enjoy watching animals do their thing. It's a great way to start children out on the road to leading a sustainable life.


3: Get Kids Involved

If you have kids, then you know that up to a certain age they have a strong desire to help mom and dad do just about anything. When appropriate, get your kids involved in what you're doing. Simple household tasks like recycling and using natural cleaning products are a great start. If you have teenagers in the house, you can get their help with brainstorming and working on larger projects like installing sustainable cork or bamboo flooring in your home.

One task that kids of all ages will want to be involved in is helping out with the family garden. Teach them about composting and the virtues of growing your own organic vegetables and herbs. Seeing food on the plate that came from seeds they planted is a big thrill for a kid, as well as a great lesson in sustainability.


2: Read to Them

parents reading to children
You'll probably be amazed by how many books there are on the subject.

Kid love bedtime stories. And most adults can probably recall some of their favorite stories that were read to them when they were children. This means books have a pretty big impact on children, which is why they're filled with life lessons -- from sharing and playing nice, to understanding emotions and being well-mannered. These days, there's a nice selection of green-themed books that can help teach your kids stewardship and sustainability in a language they can easily understand. Chances are your kids will be clamoring for you to read them to you over and over, driving home the sustainability lessons that will stay with them for years to come.


1: Volunteer with Your Kids

One of the best ways to teach your kids about their surrounding environments is by signing the family up for some local volunteer work. Search your local community organizations and message boards for opportunities for environmental volunteer jobs, and then take your kids along with you. There are likely all kinds of local park and neighborhood cleanup groups in your area, and your kids will get a sense of pride in their community from making their neighborhood more beautiful. You'll also be teaching two lessons for the price of one -- protecting the environment and the importance of volunteerism. This is also a great way to lead by example. If you volunteer alongside your kids, then they'll be more likely to carry on in the family tradition in the future, which is great news for Mother Earth.


Lots More Information

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  • "147 Tips for Teaching Sustainability." Calstate.edu. March 29, 2012. http://www.calstate.edu/acadaff/system_strategic_planning/docs/147-PractTips4TeachSustain_Excerpt.pdf
  • "Children and Environmental Sustainability." Clemson.edu. March 29, 2012. http://www.clemson.edu/hort/courses/sustainable_schoolyards/Designing_SSHs/ErinBook/environment.pdf
  • "Children With Parents Who Smoke Are More Likely To Pick Up Smoking." Hpb.gov. March 29, 2012. http://www.hpb.gov.sg/news/article.aspx?id=6028
  • Palmatier, Kelly. "Volunteering with Children." Compassionatekids.com. March 29, 2012. http://www.compassionatekids.com/volunteering.shtml
  • "Teaching Stewardship and Sustainability." Epa.gov. March 29, 2012. http://www.epa.gov/region8/ee/teachingsustainability.html
  • "Teaching Sustainability to Your Kids." Happy-mothering.com. March 29, 2012. http://www.happy-mothering.com/02/parenting/teaching-sustainability-to-your-kids/