How to Grow a Green Kid

26 May 2015

Why teaching your children to reduce, reuse and recycle is good for the planet – and great for your kids!

Kermit famously said ‘it’s not easy being green’, but kids seem to have a natural way of making environmental activism part of their everyday lives. Whether they’re rescuing a wayward snail or asking curly questions about why the sky is blue, our children can often teach us a thing or two about paying closer attention to nature.

If you can harness this natural curiosity and encourage children to appreciate the planet and take action to protect it, you’re empowering them to feel they can make a real difference to the world around them. From easy garden projects to little days out with a green twist, there are many ways to encourage kids to reduce, reuse and recycle – and have fun while they’re at it.

Empowering through education

With issues like global warming, water conservation and pollution management regularly in the news, our children can’t fail to be aware that our world faces major environmental challenges. Even as an adult, warnings about climate change, biodiversity or finite resources can be frightening and confusing, making it essential for us to talk about the issues sensitively with our kids.

Luckily, while politicians toss the climate change football back and forth in the media, kids across Australia are still connecting with nature and learning practical ways to go green thanks to environmental education in schools, recycling programs by local councils and nature play initiatives. Queensland’s Sustainable Schools program, for example, rolls out resources for educators so they can lead by example, engaging students in water conservation projects, food production, and waste management in classrooms and playgrounds.

Environmental education, however, needs to go beyond the classroom. According to the Sustainable Schools website, each Australian family produces enough waste per year to fill a 3-bedroom house; that’s around 1.9 tonnes of waste per person. But the trouble with scary statistics like this is that they can feel so overwhelming that they numb us into inaction. Children can become depressed about the future of the planet when faced with ‘doom and gloom’ predictions about environmental disasters.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) associate professor Julie Davis has written extensively about education on sustainability, with a focus on nurturing young children's capacities as agents of change. Julie says that making a child feel depressed or helpless is not good sustainability education. Rather, good teaching in this area should focus on positive, empowering opportunities to be “an active citizen for sustainability”; simple things like using the half flush in the toilet to save water can be explained to young children helping them feel engaged and empowered about ‘making a difference’.

Encourage your child to respect the planet – and have fun at the same time. After all, the future really is in their hands.

And this sort of education doesn’t just benefit the planet – there are real benefits for kids too. Julie says that kids “get short-term benefits such as feeling good about protecting and caring for the planet” along with beneficial longer-term education. “They are establishing foundations for sustainable habits and ways of thinking that contribute to their own more sustainable futures,” Julie says.

So, what can we do as parents to provide positive messages about environmental awareness and help our kids to grow up green?

Green living at home

One of the best lessons we can teach our kids is that environmental activism doesn’t have to mean making enormous personal sacrifices – and that little things add up to big changes. Kids can help out every day with small but significant adjustments to household routines that benefit the environment.

  • Be energy efficient. With water and electricity rates on the rise, it makes good financial, as well as environmental, sense to work smarter around the home. Teach kids to turn off the tap while they brush their teeth, water the garden sparingly or use the half flush function on the toilet to conserve water. Switch off lights when you’re not in the room, use energy-efficient light bulbs and don’t leave the television on standby when you go to bed. You could even create a roster or checklist for a ‘green audit’ of the house and get young activists involved in your progress.
  • Reap what you sow. There’s something about homegrown veggies that just tastes better than anything you’ll find in the shops. And with the resurgence of interest in home cooking and nutrition, your local garden centre can show you lots of great ways to develop a kitchen garden with the kids. Why not encourage the children to plant a ‘pizza garden’ with easy to grow plants like tomatoes, basil and capsicum that can be harvested for a tasty, healthy meal down the track? Or have a growing race where each child adopts a seedling – whose plant will flower first? Worm farms and compost bins are also a great way to use up scraps and let the kids get hands on in the dirt. Whether you end up with a fertile urban farm or just a few herbs in a window box, you’re teaching kids about the origins of their food and setting up healthy eating habits for life.
  • One man’s trash. One easy way to reduce your household rubbish pile is with creative upcycling of boxes and packaging. Egg cartons are ideal for growing seedlings, for example, or as paint palettes for an arty afternoon. Margarine tubs can be cleaned out and stacked up to separate Lego or loom bands. Let the kids go wild with stickers and labels to personalise and organise their treasures. Cut out pictures from magazines and catalogues to make creative collages. Or try this one: draw a person on a piece of paper, then mix and match outfits using magazine clippings, like old-fashioned paper dolls. Store sweet wrappers, bottle lids and twisty ties in an ice cream container and pull them out for wet weather craft projects. And if you have bigger boxes lying around, it takes nothing but a little imagination to invent a cubby, racing car or shop. When it comes to household waste, get the whole family actively involved in sorting rubbish and reusing or recycling where possible.

Taking it to the streets

If you need a little extra inspiration, keep the environmental agenda in mind on your next family day out.

  • What better way to pique your child’s interest in the environment than by simply letting them play in nature? Climbing trees, swimming in the sea and looking at stars activate our children’s natural curiosity and help them understand why our planet is worth protecting.
  • Make a note of national days of action on environmental issues and get involved. Every year Australians celebrate Earth Hour, Clean Up Australia Day and National Recycling Week, for example. You’ll find events taking place both online and in local parks and beaches that you can join with the family.
  • Take advantage of environmental education programs at local museums and national parks. Local councils across Australia offer regular opportunities for kids to get up close and personal with wildlife in the area or explore local bush tracks or wetlands.
  • Take the kids with you next time you visit the local tip. This is a great chance to discuss what happens to our rubbish, why we need to be concerned about landfill and why we separate our rubbish for recycling.
  • Make recycling creative and enjoyable by looking out for arts and crafts workshops involving natural or recycled materials. Sunshine Coast Council runs the Nature Connections program, for example, where kids can get crafty with organic materials.

Lillian Shewring coordinates the workshops at Reverse Garbage Queensland, a not-for-profit co-operative that repurposes industrial discards. She says that the hands-on nature of her children’s art workshops helps kids to visualise and remember what they’ve learned about recycling, as well as helping them think outside the box when it comes to repurposing the stuff that some people think of as rubbish. “They get to make and construct things, get their hands dirty and make a bit of a mess, which is always great fun,” Lillian says. “I guess one of the main positive things that the kids take away from our classes is the realisation that sustainability, recycling and reusing materials is not something that is beyond their capacity. Actually they can easily do it at home, at school, anywhere really.”

By creating an awareness of environmental issues using positive, encouraging teaching approaches and hands-on activities, your child can learn to appreciate the planet and want to do more to protect it. Going green is good for the earth, but great for our kids too, who feel empowered by the chance to make a real difference.

For further information visit:
Sustainable Schools Queensland: www.sustainableschools.qld.edu.au | Queensland National Parks Connect With Nature Program: www.nprsr.qld.gov.au
The following locations offer environmental workshops and activities for kids throughout the year.
Sunshine Coast Council Nature Connections: www.community.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au | Kids In Action Conference: www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au

Written by

Lara Cain Gray

Lara Cain Gray is a freelance writer, editor and blogger. Based in Brisbane, her office is whichever nearby café serves a decent long black with free wifi. Her professional background includes university research and museum curatorship. She continues to dabble in academia in her spare time, which is rare now that she’s also a mum of three quirky little humans. She blogs about her passions – books, the arts and family - at ThisCharmingMum.com

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  • Guest - johny
    It is delightful to read this post and i get many useful point through this post. Please keep posting such kind of articles.
    Comment last edited on about 3 years ago by Amira Langton (Digital Production)
  • Guest - John
    nice one.

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