As a child of the late-80’s and 90’s, there was a huge push in my childhood to be conscious of how one’s actions impacted the environment. It was extremely formative to have Captain Planet, PSAs, and school lessons explaining the importance of the environment to me all the time.
I grew up hiking and going to outdoor classrooms where I was taught about leaving nature just as you saw it (or even cleaner), which is to say cleaning up after yourself and others on hikes. I learned to identify trees and bushes for their use in survival and the various diseases they endured due to a pest being introduced to the local environment.
My parents also taught me the importance of recycling, making my own toys, and appreciating nature (for my mother’s birthday every year we took a hike up a local mountain). As an adult, I have tried to maintain these good habits, but it hasn’t always been easy to be environmentally friendly all the time.
Confession of my Sins
I don’t believe in being preachy about anything on my blog, in fact, it’s extremely important to me that I present a balanced perspective on pretty much everything.
Discussion about the environment lends itself to moralizing and that’s not what I want, so this post is how we are attempting to foster a love for the environment, not that it must be done with each child. I recognize that we have certain advantages that makes this easier that may not be possible for everyone.
With that in mind, before I discuss all we do to teach Jai and try to foster a love of the environment, I am going to confess my personal sins in my non-environmentally friendly moments.
I will admit I have some bad habits when it comes to attempting to be environmentally friendly: we have a coffee-pod machine and we buy the pods that go with the machine instead of putting our own coffee in a reusable pod. I don’t use a reusable cup as much as I wish I did when I go out for coffee because it’s hard to take Jai out of the car at this point for a 2-minute trip.
I do toss things occasionally that probably could be recycled, but that’s because I get too busy to clean it up or deal with it in a proper manner. I also buy some things new out of convenience that I could probably purchase at a second-hand store.
I wanted to fess up to these sins because I am not able to be environmentally friendly 100% of the time. I am not someone who is capable of living a zero environmental footprint lifestyle. Rather, I want to show what an average person can do to be environmentally friendly with a toddler.
There’s only so much a person can do and the importance is doing what you can when you are able and not feeling guilty when you are not. What is important to me is that I raise Jai to be environmentally conscious so he will also be motivated to care for his patch of land when he’s old enough.
Raising Environmentally Friendly Children
As with most everything kid-related, the key is to expose them as early, or as soon as possible, and as often as possible. As Jai gets older, we’ll sit down and explain to him (should the opportunity come up) why we do what we do for the environment.
Simple ways we expose Jai to being environmentally friendly:
- Reusable bags as often as possible when out shopping
- Using cloth diapers more often than disposable ones
- Consign most of his clothing & toys
- Choose wooden toys over plastic/electronic toys that need batteries
- Make as many meals at home as possible (especially baby food when he was younger)
- Use the library to get “new” books
- Reusable bags/storage containers for food and drink
- Recycling as many items as we can & donating things instead of trashing them (if they are in good condition)
As Jai gets older, here are some more things we can do to help raise his awareness and love for the environment:
- Exposing him to nature walks/classrooms where he learns about the outdoors
- Answering any questions he might have about why we do what we do for the environment
- Creating activities that get him involved (upcycling an outfit, making a rain gauge, etc)
- Take him to nature or environment-based volunteer days. We have a nonprofit tree-planting organization that looks for volunteers.
- Feed & rehabilitate wildlife at a local wildlife center
- Field trip to a recycling facility
- Plant & maintain a garden to learn about plant lifecycles
There are probably more things I could be doing, but please do not take these lists as a “we’re doing this so we’re good people.” It’s just what I try to do in order to expose Jai to being environmentally aware at a young age so it seems natural to him.
Additionally, I will teach him that not everyone feels the same way about the environment and that’s okay. I want him to have a balanced perspective on the matter so if he gets into a conversation with someone who does not care (or believe in being environmentally friendly), he will be able to address their points in a mature, well-reasoned fashioned. He will learn that he may not be able to change their mind, but he can be an example of a compassionate eco-friend.
It is important to teach Jai to do what he can, when he can, rather than force the issue on him. I want to make the experience fun and enjoyable so he will be motivated to find other ways to be environmentally-friendly. If, when he gets older, he expresses no interest in the environment, I may be sad but I will respect his decision.
What do you do to raise an environmentally aware child? What has worked for you and why? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
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