So you want to teach your children to be environmentally friendly. “The Earth is our home, we have to take care of it,” you tell them. But how do you show them? How do you keep it fun — and keep their interest? We’ve rounded up 15 easy ways to teach your kids (from toddlers to teens) about living green.
Take an Inventory
Go on a scavenger hunt for hazardous materials in your home. Then have the kids help research how to replace those products with homemade and/or eco-friendly versions. Remember to dispose of the skull and crossbones materials safely. Most cities have safe disposal programs. Best for: junior | teen
Adopt plant-based meals
It's no secret that plant-based eating is good for your health, but it also benefits the planet. You don't need to go full vegan, but bringing a few meatless meals into your weekly rotation has an impact. It's fun to cook together, too.
Plant a Seed
Create a container garden by repurposing a broken toy, an old shoe or antique furniture into a beautiful garden. Kids will love seeing their old toy truck or rubber boots being used — and it’s a great opportunity for them to get their hands dirty, from helping with planting, to weeding and watering. Remember to drill holes in the bottom of your container for proper drainage. Best for: preschooler | junior
Organize a Swap Meet
Invite your little one’s friends or for the community at large. Trade clothing, books or toys and teach them about the age-old proverb “one’s trash is another’s treasure.” Donate whatever is left to a local charity to save it from going to the landfill. Check out bookcrossing.com and littlefreelibrary.org for unique ways to swap books. Best for: all ages
Create An Earth Jar
Save water and energy in your home by introducing an ‘Earth jar’. A spin on the infamous ‘swear jar’, if mom or dad see the kids making a conscious effort to save water or energy (turning the tap off while they’re brushing their teeth or turning off electronics when not in use), a quarter goes into the ‘Earth jar’. Save up for a fun outdoor family activity. Best for: junior | teen
Read Eco-Themed Books
Read to your kids or introduce them to books about sustainability. Preschoolers will love Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals and Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Middle graders will enjoy Carl Hiaasen’s four junior fiction novels: Hoot, Flush, Scat and Chomp. Turn your teens to Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. Best for: all ages
Visit a Farmers Market
Learn about local food by taking your children to farmers’ markets, joining a community-supported agriculture program or ordering from an organic food delivery service. They’re all great ways to buy local, seasonal food directly from farmers. Or, grow your own food! Regardless of the garden’s size, kids will take great pride in seeing the fruits of their labour. Best for: all ages
It’s great for the environment and for your health. Go for a hike, search for wildlife, go apple picking or visit the beach or park. Partake in a little adventure with your teens: try ziplining, geocaching, rock climbing or caving. Whenever possible, take public transit, or bike or walk your kids to school or to run errands. Best for: all ages
Turn Recycling Into Crafts
Turn your recycling into art by reusing household materials for craft and play. The easiest way is to have a separate recycling bin for items you think you can repurpose. Pick craft ideas based on your child’s interest. Turn a plastic bottle into a bird feeder, create a guitar from a tissue box or transform egg cartons or magazines into flowers for spring. Best for: preschooler | junior
Engage in eco-friendly media by introducing your children to eco-themed movies, games, songs and social media outlets that talk about green living. There are plenty of options, but we’re fond of the Fern Gully, The Lorax app, the song “Recycle With Me” by Bobs and Lolo and the #felfie Twitter and Instagram trend, in which farmers post self-portraits on their farms. Best for: all ages
Make a Rain Barrel
Green your backyard by recycling the Earth’s resources with a rainwater collection barrel and/or composting bin. Have your little ones help create and decorate the barrel and bin. It will also create hours of entertainment when the family is watering the lawn (and filling up their water balloons) or taking out the compost (and finding bugs). Best for: preschooler | junior
Help Your Neighbourhood
Volunteer with your kids on a conservation effort in your neighbourhood. This not only benefits the planet, but it also helps foster compassion and community responsibility in your children. Participate in a park clean up, tree planting or community garden. Check out goodwork.ca or your city’s website for available volunteer opportunities. Best for: junior | teen
Make a Green Wall
Make your own green roof or wall to show your children the importance of green space. Even small roofs (on a mailbox or shed) or walls (made out of a wood pallet) will provide habitat creation, aesthetic impact and more. There are plenty of resources online to get you started. If do-it-yourself isn’t your thing, take your kids to visit a publicly accessible green roof or wall in your neighbourhood. Best for: junior | teen
Brainstorm Green Ideas
Challenge your family to think of ways to make your household greener. Kids are creative – you never know what they’ll come up with. Even something as simple as switching to energy efficient light bulbs or reusable water bottles will make all the difference. Reward your kids with their favourite meal or staying up an hour later when they think of (and implement) something new. Best for: junior | teen
Lead by example. The best way to teach your kids about sustainable living is to actively live green yourself. Whether you make your own holiday decorations, shop locally, dry your clothes outdoors in the summer, install a programmable thermostat, carpool or have family game nights (as opposed to watching TV), every little bit helps. Best for: everyone
Jennifer Foden Wilson is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. When she’s not working, she can be found travelling or teaching her niece and nephew about living green.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February 2014.