How do we help our kids understand about environmental conservation and protection?
Once, when my three boys were younger, we went on a group trip to help with a beach clean-up. We have always embraced environmentally sound practices at home like keeping showers short and cool, composting, gardening, recycling, and keeping electronics to a minimum (unplugging when not in use, etc). We walk or ride bikes when we can, and have never had multiple cars for the family. We try to teach them through example, because monkey see, monkey do, and all that. We thought it would be a really meaningful experience for them to participate in the clean-up, seeing what a difference a bit of effort can make.
So we showed up, bringing our gloves and bags, and dug in. Two things became abundantly clear: first, there was a lot of waste on the beach, and much of it did not seem to be the sort of thing that would be tossed in by the folks who lived along the beach. By this I mean, the waste consisted very much of things like plastic and debris from restaurants and named stores (with their names printed on the plastic bags), as well as waste from car mechanics. Odd because there were neither restaurants nor mechanics nor those named stores near us nor the beach. The second thing that stood out to us was the locals who lived along the beach were all just sitting on their steps, watching us.
Turns out: our effort would definitely make that stretch of beach clean … until the tide came in again and once again deposited all of the waste thrown into the water from the other side of the peninsula. (Atlantic currents are weird that way, swirling and whirling, picking up from one point along a coastline and dropping on another). The locals all knew this; regardless of what they pick up, the next tide would again come and go, leaving behind just as much waste as before.
Clearly the answer was not just to clean up the beach; efforts had to be made to stop waste from being thrown into the water in the first place. That was a much bigger, much more international effort yet to come; my lesson for my kids? Sure, they learned about cleaning up the beach, and how hard it can be. They learned that they can make a difference though, however fleeting. They also learned that the effort can’t just be a handful of people donning gloves and trash bags; it had to be more than that.
Environmental education is an important piece of our kids’ education. This education is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage with problem-solving and gain impetus to take action. The more young people are encouraged to explore related topics and form their own opinions on complex issues, the more they will feel ownership of their actions. Environmental education promotes critical and creative thinking skills and inspires kids to be more engaged in their communities. It helps them to understand why the environment is important and provides them with the building blocks and tool set to live eco-friendly and sustainable lives.
What can you do at home to help foster an environmental education for your kids?
1. Get outside! Being outside in nature for even as little as two hours per week is associated with good health and well-being. Youth that spend more time outdoors also tend to have higher academic performances, reduced stress levels and improved social skills. Also, kids that are outdoors more also have higher levels of physical wellness.
2. Help your kids build their sustainable habits. Small actions can have a big impact over time. Simple things like turning off the water while brushing teeth, turning off lights when not in use, unplugging devices when not in use, bringing reusable bags for shopping, recycling and using reusable water bottles can make a big difference over time and none of these actions take a huge effort investment. Not just telling your kids to take these actions but enabling discussions as to why these actions matter, and what positive impact they can make will also encourage your kids to make these sustainable actions regular habits.
3. Raise your kids to be eco-friendly consumers. Simple choices like not purchasing single-serve or single-use plastic containers or utensils, supporting businesses with sustainable or green practices, purchasing natural or eco-friendly products and cleaning products … again, small choices that can make a big difference in the end.
4. Allow your kids to pursue their curiosities and interests as it comes to protecting the environment and climate change. Perhaps they feel inspired to work with an organization or zoo to protect wildlife; perhaps they feel drawn to clean-up efforts or gardening; maybe they want to help efforts to create more eco-friendly products. Encourage them to follow their curiosity and interests. The more inspired they feel, then the invested they will become, and their efforts that much more meaningful.
Was my beach clean-up adventure with the kids a lost effort? I don’t think so. We learned a lot and had a good time as a family group. Our time together inspired all three of my kids to follow their interests in different capacities to continue their effort for environmental conservation. I love thinking our younger generations are going to make a positive difference in our current climate and environmental crisis. Let’s continue to inspire them to make positive impacts!
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