Growing Our Kids Green
Its four thirty in the afternoon and I’m just in the door from work. My four year old son is waking up from his nap. “Mommy?” he calls sleepily from his room at the top of the stairs, “will you play recycling with me?” This is an imaginary play scenario he is very fond of. It involves putting a big pile of his cars or trains in the “hopper,” as he calls it, of a large toy pickup truck and hauling them to the “recycling center” where he decides what gets recycled and what gets composted. There’s a lot of bulldozing and dumping and whirring and crashing, and a lot of “we’re cleaning up our Earth, Mommy.” He loves it—it keeps him entertained for hours.
As parents we are our children’s first teachers. It is from us that they learn the skills and lessons that will carry them through their lives. Share. Do unto others. No hitting. Put the toilet seat down when you’re finished. Wash your hands. We need to wear pants if we want to go outside. We begin these lessons when our children are very small. Now while they’re young is also the perfect time to begin teaching them that the earth is our home and we need to care for it and respect it. As with everything else they learn, our children learn best by looking to us to see what we do and mimicking our actions. It’s our job to lead by example.
You can begin by talking with your kiddos about the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. I found that employing the Jack Johnson Curious George soundtrack for backup support was very helpful here! If you’ve got a child under eight, you know exactly what I mean. Talk with your kids about ways we can reduce what we consume and use in our lives. Children are often told to do things (or not to do them!) but aren’t told why. With my son it is often more helpful to explain the why’s of things, he’s much more likely to listen and comply. One simple thing we can do to help reduce our waste is to train ourselves to bring reusable bags to the grocery store each time we go. Leave ‘em in your car so they’re always there. While you’re in the store talk with them about the importance of buying fruits and vegetables that are grown locally. Explain that trucking or flying in foods from far away creates a lot of pollution and when we buy local and seasonal we’re reducing that harmful impact. Instead of buying bottled water, buy your child a reusable sports bottle instead. One of the ways we’ve tried to reduce at our house is by making the switch from disposable napkins or paper towels to cloth napkins. These are just a few of the easy steps we can take to help reduce our consumption and waste and they set the stage for our kids to mimic our actions.
Help your children learn that many things we use every day can be re-used rather than thrown out when we’re through. Get creative! Ask your child how they think we can use an item bound for the recycling bin to create something new. One of our favorite re-uses is the small cups that applesauce comes in. We repurpose these for paint pots and other arts & crafts projects. For birthdays and holidays instead of wrapping paper we re-use the newspaper and finish the gift with a pretty cloth ribbon. At our house, we like to say that even Santa recycles when his elves wrap the gifts in the newspapers from our recycling bin! When I do occasionally have to use plastic bags from a store, I save them and take them along on walks to the park so that we can pick up any trash we see in our neighborhood. As your child outgrows clothes, books and toys, collect them and pass them on to another parent to use or to an organization that serves needy families in your community. You’re helping your children learn to re-use and to share their good fortune with others too.
I talk with my son about the idea of finite resources in our world. Even the littlest tot can learn that we take only what we need from the napkin dispenser. As I sort through the mail each day I ask my son to help me carry the junk pieces to the recycling bin. I explain that paper products are made out of trees that must be cut down to make things like napkins and paper. It helps him to understand that when we recycle things like newspaper & cardboard then fewer trees are cut down. There are loads of good books out there to help you drive your point home, from The Lorax to Let’s Talk Trash: The Kid’s Book About Recycling.
So I kick off my shoes and plop down onto the floor in my son’s bedroom, careful not to squish the recycling center. As parents we are like gardeners, scattering seeds every day that often will not sprout for many years to come. By modeling our own eco-awareness for our kids today, we can help ensure that they become thoughtful caretakers of the environment tomorrow.
Julie Arcino is the Resource Coordinator at MB Jessee Inc.