“The single best thing we can do for the environment is to raise better children.”
Think of pretty much any skill, and the conventional wisdom will be to ‘teach them while they’re young’. As children, our brains are practically fresh sponges, ready to soak up any skill that might help us get by in later life. And since it is often the things we are taught to care about as a child that we end up valuing later in life – whether that be a strong work ethic, a tidy house, or an important career, we can assume the same conventional wisdom can be applied to living sustainably.
Teaching our children to appreciate and care for their natural environment at a young age will embed values in them that will be reflected in their actions as an adult.
But, amidst our busy lives, how do we ensure that the future generation is raised to be one that truly cares for the planet they will inherit?
Living sustainably is a skill like any other and it can be said that one of the easiest ways to teach a child a new skill is to lead by example. A child can quickly develop good habits, if their role models choose to instill them, because they have not yet developed preconceived ideas about the way that things should be done. Thankfully it is easy to make caring for the environment part of your own daily life!
The easiest way to teach a child to care about the environment is by allowing them to physically experience it and enjoy it. Taking your child out in nature to explore and play will help them develop a love for the outdoors and give them an appreciation for the way it can enrich their life. They will be spending less time in front of a screen and experiencing the joy ofnature will give them incentive to want to protect their environment.
There are many age-appropriate ways a child can get involved in living green. Younger children can help with simple tasks like separating paper and plastic, while older children can participate in community activities like beach clean ups.
Habits like recycling or composting can be taught as soon as children are old enough to begin helping with household tasks. It will be no more difficult for them to learn to throw a piece of used cardboard into a recycling bin as into a rubbish bin, if it is explained to them from the start that this is where cardboard goes.
Planting a small veggie garden is a fun and interactive way for children to learn where food comes from. You will be teaching them responsibility by helping them to care for their plants and they will in turn get to experience the great sense of accomplishment that comes from turning a seed into something that can be eaten. You don’t need a lot of space as a veggie garden can be started in pots if you do not have a big yard.
After planting your new garden, you might explain to your child just how long it takes for a beautiful big tree to grow, which will leave them with a whole new appreciation of the work that Mother Nature does and may make them feel sadness to see a beautiful big tree be cut down.
By allowing your child to take part in these types of activities they will not only be learning the art of sustainability, but also many other invaluable life lessons: critical thinking, responsibility, creativity, compassion, and to be thrifty with their money. Not only this, they will also be taught the importance of personal health, plant health, basic sciences, math, and geography.
Like everything with kids, it is important to avoid being too pushy and instead allow your children to develop opinions on their own. Let them ask questions and encourage their curiosity. Gently guiding them towards solutions will help them learn to develop their own problem-solving skills and will allow them to deepen their understanding of what they consider to be right and wrong.
Try and keep things fun and light-hearted rather than putting too much focus on the negativity surrounding environmental issues. Let them know that there are many ways that they can be part of a solution rather than making them feel worried and helpless about all the problems.
If learning good habits is easy when you’re young, the flipside must surely be that breaking bad habits is hard when you’re old. But the good news is, it is not impossible. And what better motivation could there be to break away from our unsustainable lifestyles than to leave a healthy and happy planet to our children?
As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy”. If we instill good habits in our kids now, they won’t ever have to face the same dilemma.