How can we teach our children to respect the earth?

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Sometimes big concepts can be hard to explain to our kids. Trying to get our little ones to grasp the size of the earth and universe, and all of the plants and animals in between can feel like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be. As parents and grandparents, we step into our roles as lifelong teachers and understand that good habits start small at home. So rather than diving into answering big questions, we teach through the wondrous eyes of a child seeing nature for the first time and build their knowledge, quite literally, from the ground up.

We nurture their natural curiosity about dirt, worms, sticks, leaves, trees, and flowers to connect them with the world around them. We show them to be relaxed around our pets, to treat animals with kindness and respect. We indulge their delight over warm, bubbly water, introduce them to the size and smell of the ocean at the beach, and carry them up mountainsides to experience the wonder of the peaks above and valleys below.

These experiences are where you will find your best teachable moments about how to keep the earth beautiful for generations to come!

Leave No Trace

Practice picking up all of the trash we find around us when we go outside – especially the stuff we bring! Very young toddlers very quickly turn it into a “clean up” game (we even still sing the Barney song) and kids will start to spot things as they go for walks and point out that someone has left something that does not belong. With older kids, it’s important to make a note that not all trash goes in the same garbage – much of it can be recycled. Bring along a bag to sort when you come upon a recycling bin or when you get home. This leads us to our next point:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

One of the most important things we can teach our children is to reduce the amount of single-use waste they use. Sometimes we get so caught up in habits that make our lives a little easier that we forget about the cost of that convenience. In the world of every type of reusable lunchbox out there, kids’ lunchboxes don’t need to be full of plastic bags, pudding cups, and individually wrapped vegetables when we can easily shop in bulk!

But when all else fails, be vigilant about what can and can’t be recycled. Have your little one help clean up the kitchen after meals, or clean out the fridge on grocery shopping days, or asking for their input while you shop. Show them that there are distinctly different garbage cans for different types of waste and aim for the “general trash” bag to be the smallest! In the store, ask the kids which product you should buy that they think would be the least wasteful – often this will be bought in bulk, or in glass containers rather than plastic bags.

The Full Cycle of Products

The more aware children are of recycling and using reusable containers, the more they will be able to understand the full lifecycle of the things that they own. Work together to point out some things in their bedroom and ask where they think it will end up when they are finished with it or have outgrown it. If (read: when) kids start picking things up off the shelf impulsively, ask them where they think that will end up in 1 year – or 100 years? How long do they think the product will last in your house before it needs to be thrown out? Helping our kids understand that our waste doesn’t just “disappear” when the garbage man comes to collect it will pave the way for a kinder teenager and a mindful adult – which is our ultimate goal!

Find out Creative Ways to Work Together

None of us are perfect – we all know that there are some unavoidable parts of being human that simply leave a mark, no matter how hard we try. But all of us have room to grow and improve. Help your little one be a part of this growth! Ask them what they think your family can do better in your home to reduce waste, then implement those ideas together. Kids feel empowered when they feel heard and will take greater responsibility when their input is respected. This could be anything from starting a compost bin for all of your food waste, growing your own vegetables together, setting a specific day once a month for any toy purchases to reduce impulsivity, or finding fun ways to upcycle some old toys. Whatever they suggest (within reason) try to make it happen.

There’s no prouder moment when our children and grandchildren are the ones who correct us when we go to buy the pre-cut plastic veg or shake their head when they pick up a plastic bottle on a hike. We owe it to future generations to help them create a sustainable future, and that future starts with us!

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