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Ideas for Teaching Tots, School Kids or Teens to Be Eco-Active
Your kids have learned about climate change in science class and maybe even worn tees with green slogans. Even preschoolers are learning about the environment thanks to cartoon superheroes like Captain Planet. It’s never too soon to start teaching kids about green living. But it’s one thing for kids to realize why it's important to protect the environment; it’s another to get them to do their part. Try these ideas for inspiring and teaching specific age groups of kids to go green:
Use fun activities like games or art projects to teach kids under 5 about the environment. Make crafts using recycled materials — think popsicle-stick sculptures and origami from scrap paper — and talk to the kids about why it’s important to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Denise Schipani has taught her four-year-old son, James, about the importance of minimizing waste — and it’s caught on.
“I explain that we pull out the junk mail and put it in the recycling bin to keep it out of the trash (which just piles up somewhere) and let it be taken somewhere where it’s made into new things,” she explains.
Now, when James notices litter in the park, he points it out and tells his mom, “We have to keep the Earf clean.”
It’s never too early to talk to preschoolers about the “Three Rs.” Make it a game: Give them a gold star each time they remember to turn off the tap when they brush their teeth or switch off the lights when they leave the room. At the end of the week, the one with the most stars gets to pick out a weekend movie.
And of course, kids love digging in the dirt! Kids of any age can help in the garden — planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. Even if your garden is limited to a few potted plants on your deck, give them their own kid-safe gardening tools to work with, and you'll be amazed at how their eyes light up when it's time to tend those plants.
Chip Richman, 8, and his sister, Charlotte, 5, know exactly which items belong in the recycling and compost bins — and they aren’t afraid to make a fuss when their parents, Nancy and Scott, mess up.
“Our kids are the ones who can make the biggest impact on future generations by changing their ideas about consumption and protecting the earth,” notes Nancy Richman.
The Richmans’ mini environmentalists are also on the Green Team at school, teaching their classmates the importance of being good environmental stewards.
Jenn Savedge, author of Green Parenting: Raising Kids Without Trashing the Planet and The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet, advises putting school-aged kids on recycling patrol, letting them separate items that are recyclable and compostable from the regular trash. Help organize a litter patrol at the school playground and give the kids rewards such as points toward a new music download.
“It is so empowering for kids this age to be involved in green activities,” says Savedge. “It makes them feel like they’re part of the solution — which they are — and will teach them important lessons about the environment that will carry on throughout their lives. It also teaches them that the environment is something the family values."
It’s cool to be green, and that motivates tweens and teens to do their part.
“This age group has a huge amount of power when it comes to making good choices for the environment,” Savedge says.
Encourage tweens and teens to walk, ride their bikes or carpool when they want to hang out with friends. Ask them to consider the environmental policies of the stores where they shop, and support their involvement in environmental clubs.
An interest in the environment can also help earn kids good grades. Book reports, essays and science fair projects on environmental topics can feed their need for information and help aid in their understanding of topics like climate change.
“Teens know that the environmental decisions they make today will impact their future,” Savedge says. “They are excited to be involved in doing the right thing for the planet.”
Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, 2008).