It is a science-backed truth that the older we get, the more rigid our brain cell structures become, which often means it is harder for us to learn new things. And beyond what scientific studies reveal, anecdotal evidence demonstrates over and over again that value systems are more likely to become second nature if they’re learned at a young age.
This means kids who grow up with a healthy perception of the planet they call home are more likely to value the planet over the course of their entire life. But helping kids make important connections about their behavior and the implications of that behavior often takes an extra measure of thoughtful consideration.
Lead by Example
Kids are expert readers of people. Even the youngest of children will subconsciously notice if you say one thing but do another. If you’re going to preach the value of being environmentally conscious, but are unwilling to actually behave that way yourself, then you may as well save your breath.
If you want to teach your children that sustainability is a valuable approach to life, the most valuable thing you can do is walk the walk, because that will prove that you mean and believe what you say.
Thus, if you want them to recycle, you need to be willing to take the time to do it yourself. If you’re trying to encourage them to see the value in living minimally, teach them how they can move past materialism and embrace living with less. There’s a good chance your kids will imitate you whatever you do, so take advantage of the opportunity that that is.
Give Them Responsibilities
Part of the challenge — even among adults — of promoting sustainable living is that it can often be difficult to recognize the true impact an individual can have. Often, it’s tempting to believe that just one person isn’t going to change anything.
However, the history of modern environmental efforts is full of people whose efforts did in fact change things on a large scale. Not only that, one can’t say enough about how the example of one can begin a chain reaction among many.
Giving kids an opportunity to actively participate in their home and in their community on a regular basis is a surefire way to demonstrate to them the weight of their actions and the potential they have to change things.
As PBS points out, it’s one thing to make environmental efforts on special occasions, but to truly raise environmentally responsible adults the effort has to be consistent.
Consider what types of responsibilities fit your children’s ages, and then be prepared to be surprised at the scope of their abilities. Be sure to point out how their participation changed the course of events. If as a family you volunteer to pick up litter, make a big deal about how much your child removed from the streets. If they’re responsible for spreading compost in the garden, thank them for the bounty that the garden provides.
Show Them Why It’s Worthwhile
One of the keys to raising people who appreciate the earth is demonstrating to them what is lost when people fail to live sustainably. Kids are constantly building their perspective of the world, and their current experiences are forming the foundational pieces of the adult they become. What experiences can you give them with which to filter their view of the world with?
Find Environmental Clubs for Kids
There are an array of organizations already that operate with the goal of educating kids about the environment, and equipping them to understand its needs. You can find clubs in a variety of locations and sizes, some meet in local communities while others are virtual.
Even if you don’t live in a location with options, consider starting a chapter of a club where you are, or even building one from the ground up with your children.
In the same vein, there’s a recurring debate about the value of social media in kids’ lives. But, utilizing social media as a means of activism can be a way to take advantage of something kids are familiar with, with a sense of purpose and agency. Coming alongside them while they thoughtfully highlight the causes close to their hearts, will give them a chance to take control of how they use the internet.
Highlight the Beauty of the Earth During Family Vacations
Family vacations are an awesome way to tie together sustainability with meaningful experiences as your family practices eco-friendly travel. The places you go and the things you do as a family will likely make a significant impact on your children, and will create memories that they will carry with them their whole lives.
Use a surfing excursion to talk your kids about ocean conservation. Tour the national parks, see the wildlife, and begin a dialogue about endangered animals, and importance of preserving habitat. Even something as simple as making flower crowns in your backyard can provide the perfect context for meaningful conversation about the importance of natural resources.
Make Your Home Proactive
In addition to showcasing how and why decreasing your footprint is valuable, you can also demonstrate how to proactively make positive choices. There are always ways to improve, so include your kids in the brainstorming process so that looking for green options becomes second nature to them.
Implementing environmental education can happen organically, as you make choices for your household that are sustainable.
Forego traditional choices like plastic toothbrushes for a bamboo toothbrush in the bathroom, or hardwood for bamboo flooring when it’s time to remodel the kitchen, and then walk your children through the logic behind those choices.
Model Global Citizenship
Not only is it important to teach kids that what they do really does have an impact, it is also worthwhile to demonstrate just how far-reaching that impact can be. In our hometowns it can be difficult to comprehend the environmental challenges of those in far away cities.
How can a child empathize with those living in the smog-oppressed areas of China, or the flood-ridden streets of Texas if they’ve never seen those things?
Read: Some of the best learning happens between the pages of books. Whether it be books for small children that will promote a sense of global identity or reading the news with older kids, reading is an excellent way to teach them to begin to think about how issues are important , even if they’re physically far off.
Talk: With a platform like Skype in the Classroom, you can actually make global conversation reality for your kids. You can talk to others who will be able to make sustainability issues far more tangible for your children.
Studies demonstrate that kids from all cultures imitate their parents, even to a fault. It appears to be one of the few kid-specific traits, with hardly any variance: what you do, they will do. It’s a heavy reality for parents hoping to do the best they can in a very challenging role.
However, it’s a powerful thing that can result in good things, for both your kids and the environment. If you are invested in an eco-friendly lifestyle, then some of those efforts will naturally impact your kids, because there’s little they miss.
Making the most of the years of their childhood will mean they’ll be far more likely to head into adulthood equipped to make thoughtful and impactful choices for the good of the planet.