I truly believe that teaching our children to take responsibility for our planet’s well being is one of the most important tasks we as parents have. If we want to raise our children to be Eco-conscious adults one day, we as parents need to start living Eco-consciously now, because children learn what they live. The greatest gift we can give our children is to raise them to love and appreciate nature. From that love and appreciation, plus a understanding of our impact on the environment, the do’s and don’ts of Eco-conscious living will flow naturally, instead of it being a set of rules to live by.
13 Tips to raise Eco-conscious kids
1. The core value of ‘simplicity’
Consumerism tirelessly tries to convince us that we need more stuff. In our family we have made a decision to choose for simplicity as a core value. We are not only trying to reduce the amount of products we buy, but also reduce the things we have in our home. We are striving to continuously ask ourselves the question ‘Do I really need that?’ Surprisingly the answer is seldom yes.
2. Saying ‘No’ together
Each time we accept the flyer at the traffic light, the plastic shopping bag at the store, or the bag of freebies at the conference we are (actively or passively) saying yes to more stuff. And with our ‘yes’ we are not only creating a bigger demand for stuff, but also condoning and reinforcing wasteful practices. That’s why it is important to teach our kids from a young age to politely say ‘no’ to things they do not need or want.
3. Can we reuse that?
Encourage your little ones to reuse items again, before discarding them. As a rule before throwing an item away we ask ourselves: ‘How can we use this again?” Glass jars, for example, make great drinking glasses and vases, and are ideal for storing dry ingredients or left-overs. While empty coffee tins make perfect storage containers for crayons and small toys. Get your kids excited about ‘reusables’ by letting them choose their own reusable bottle, travel mug and straws. Show them they don’t need the disposables. Use your ‘reusables’ together as a family.
4. Recycle together
We all should be doing our best to recycle as much as possible, and it’s good to get our children on board from an early age. Get them to help you wash and sort household rubbish and talk to them about where it goes and why recycling is better than sending it to the landfill. While you are teaching your kids shapes, why not teach them the recycling numbers on plastic products as well.
5. Get a family worm-farm
Composting is nature’s way of recycling. The process allows organic materials to decompose over time and return their nutrients to the soil. And if you take into account that a third of household waste is organic then composting makes a lot of sense in terms of waste reduction. Having our own earthworm farm or compost heap is a great way to teach our kids all about the process of decomposition. There are many options when it comes to worm-farms and compost methods/systems, and choosing one is as much a personal choice as a functional one. Luckily the web is full of information and options.
6. Grow your own produce
Whether it is herbs in a pot, a few fruit trees or a vegetable garden – growing your own produce is a great way of reducing your carbon-footprint. Getting our kids involved in the planning, caring, and harvesting of a garden not only gives us as parents a unique opportunity to spend time with them, but also is a great opportunity to teach them the value of growing their own produce. Kids need to know where fresh food comes from, as well as the amount of resources and work it takes to put fruit and vegetables on our tables. Growing produce also nurtures a sense of responsibility and pride in children, which can ultimately improve self-esteem.
7. Buy Pre-loved
Buying pre-owned products is a great way of reducing our impact on the planet. I have come to realize that many of us have misconceptions when it comes to secondhand goods, especially Pre-owned clothing. It is important to challenge and abolish our own misconceptions, so that we are free to teach our children that there is absolutely nothing demeaning about buying secondhand goods. On the contrary it is great for the planet and our budgets. Tip: Keep an eye out for ‘Buy and selling’ groups in your community.
8. Thinking differently about toys
Our little girl is only two and a half years old and our household is already inundated with toys (mostly gifts from family and friends). I recently realize that the volume of toys is getting out of hand threatening to take over our home. As difficult as it is (more so for me, than for her) I have decided to declutter her toy selection. Keep a eye out for a blog post on this. ‘Quality above quantity’ is my mantra when it comes to toys. Buying less toys, but better quality toys that will last longer, makes a lot of ecological and financial sense. I love wooden toys! Stumped Wooden Toys is a local brand that makes wonderful sustainable wooden toys and DIY kits. It goes without saying that battery-driven toys is a definite no-no when you are trying to live more Eco-consciously.
9. Be energy-aware at home
It is important that we all make saving electricity a priority in our homes. Encourage one another to turn lights, computers and the television off when they are not being used. Utilize load-shedding periods to explain the importance of saving electricity to your kids.
10. Take them grocery shopping
Take your little ones grocery shopping and use the opportunity to talk about how our buying choices effect the environment. Search together for the most planet-friendly packaging (you can even make a game or competition out of it). Try buying loose fruit and vegetables and let them fill up the cotton bags. I literally can’t wait until Amelie is old enough to take her shopping at our local weigh-and-pay store, The Refillery.
11. Choose to be water-wise
In a water-scarce country it is important to teach our children to work sparingly with water. As soon as Amelie is old enough to understand we will teach her that in our home we take short showers and shallow baths, we turn the tap off when brushing our teeth, and only let the washing machine and dishwasher run when it is full.
12. Learn together
Watching wildlife programs together is a great way of nurturing a love and appreciation for our planet. Call me old-school but nothing beats curling up on the couch with Amelie and paging through a beautiful book about nature. Whatever medium you prefer, discovering and learning with our children is the best way of nurturing a love for nature. We have started teaching Amelie the names of animals, birds, insects and trees, and I am stunned at how much she is enjoying it. There are many beautiful books and Apps available. Amelie loves her Faansie’s Bird Book.
13. Get outdoors
As a Believer I believe we have been given the task and responsibility of taking care of our planet. A task and responsibility we have to pass on to our children. I also believe that the best stewards, are those who love and admire that which they have to take care of. And we only love and admire something when we know it and spend time with it – so getting outdoors and spending time in nature is crucial. And a lot of fun!
I think it is important to remember each household is different. Choose a few changes or swaps and try to stick to them. And enjoy sharing this journey with your kids.
Photos: The super talented Anje van Dalen (Madison and West Lifestyle)