The world as we know it seems to change every few years. Sadly, thus far, this trend has not been for the positive, and many individuals and environmentalists have been left asking the question of “how did we let it get this way?” Our climate is rapidly changing, animal species are going extinct, and our ancient rainforests are being systematically leveled. Frankly, we haven’t done the best job at keeping the planet in great shape for future generations. But that doesn’t mean that this is something that we have to or should perpetuate in the minds of our children.
In the past few decades, we have learned a lot about how our actions and consumption habits impact the world around us and from these lessons, we can teach our children to do better.
Teaching our children about natural resources, ecosystems and respect for flora and fauna is a crucial way of safeguarding the future of our planet. Learning these lessons from a young age ensures these habits become an intrinsic part of their lifestyle as they grow older. Imparting these messages is at least as beneficial as teaching them polite manners and basic social etiquette. Knowing not to pick at your nose in public or how to set cutlery is undoubtedly important to be taken seriously in society, but so is not tossing trash out of the car window.
Naturally curious, kids start forming ideas about the world around them from a very young age. Fostering their innate explorer’s spirit while highlighting our environment’s significant value is a constructive and formative manner of setting the right foundations to raising a conscious and mindful citizen of the world.
The best way for children to interiorize a respectful attitude towards our planet and its natural resources is for these teachings to become an inherent part of daily life. Of course, leading by example doesn’t hurt either.
1. Our Food Choices Impact the Planet
The simple fact that what we eat strongly affects the planet is a chief lesson all children should learn, especially since most adults have yet to understand this simple truth. Showing kids how to make responsible food choices is one of the easiest ways to preserve the Earth’s resources. Indeed, with animal agriculture being the chief offender where air, water, and land pollution is concerned, explaining the correlation between the animals reared for food and the important concept of global climate change to kids is an essential step. This is easily done through images or a trip to a farm sanctuary — which has the added benefit of instilling compassion for living beings from an early age.
Making these teachings fun can involve building in a weekly outing to the farmer’s market to pick up fresh, locally-grown produce or even growing part of your own fruit and veggie supply. Another great way to illustrate first-hand where the food we eat comes from is cooking with children to develop a taste and excitement for delicious plant-based menus. Reading labels to decrypt hidden animal products or processed ingredients can also become a fun game to practice with kids.
2. Our Packaging Choices Also Pollute
While the food we eat definitely impacts the planet, so does what it’s wrapped in. Buying from the farmer’s market helps sidestep this issue, but isn’t always possible, and plastic dominates not only our food packaging but most of the consumer items we use and buy. Some quick facts help demonstrate just how toxic our overblown plastic usage is to our planet:
- Plastic manufacturing uses hazardous chemicals (like benzene and vinyl chloride)
- It can take between 100-1,000 years for plastics to break down, and when they do, they only become smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. They never go away.
- Around 8.8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year
- Plastic garbage in the ocean kills 1 million sea creatures each year
- Around 700 marine species are in danger of extinction due to plastic pollution
And if none of that strikes a chord, a simple picture of a marine animal trapped in a plastic six-pack is an effective motivation to reduce our plastic consumption and dispose of it in such a way that it doesn’t end up in the ocean.
3. Live as Lightly as Possible
A zero waste lifestyle is not merely something to pick up as an afterthought during adulthood. Making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of packaging, trash and consumer items thrown out is another valuable lesson all kids should be taught.
Made undoubtedly tricky due to constant bombardment by advertising – infusing children’s subconscious with an ever-growing desire to own more stuff — this message is best communicated by example. Buying second-hand clothes or household items and recycling are just two ways amongst many to reduce one’s trash output.
Putting cans, bottles and boxes in the recycling bin definitely cuts down on the waste sent straight off to landfills, but so does giving a bottle a second life as a pencil holder or turning old bits of rope into dog toys. Making crafts out of discarded materials is a creative way of encouraging kids to go green. And crafting necklaces out of buttons, puppets out of mismatched socks and picture frames from greeting cards holds the added advantage of saving cash spent on expensive art supplies.
If the message is not coming across clearly enough for your kids, Wall-E is a fantastic children’s film with an adult message portraying what happens to our garbage and how its disposal affects our planet.
4. Be Your Own Mode of Transportation
While animal agriculture is a major polluter — and thus removing meat and dairy from our plates reduces pollution more so than taking all cars off the roads — the transport system is not far behind. Encouraging children to take public transit, walk or ride their bikes to school as soon as they are old enough to do so protects the earth’s precious air supply and has the added advantage of instilling in them a sense of independence and love of exercise. To avoid having to buy — and discard — several bikes as your children get taller, you can always look into acquiring an innovative bicycle that grows along with them.
5. Water is a Precious Resource
It is no exaggeration to deem water our planet’s most valuable natural resource. As such, the value of using it sparingly is a crucial message to deliver to our children. Choosing plant-based foods over animal products already saves a considerable amount of water, but other ways to develop economical water usage in children involve privileging showers over baths — with the latter an occasional treat — and turning the tap off while brushing their teeth or washing their hands.
6. Wildlife Isn’t Ours For the Taking
Protecting the planet also involves respecting all of its inhabitants. Not buying wildlife products — such as exotic animals’ skin, teeth, bones, shells or feathers and traditional medicine made from animal parts — and not visiting places that keep wildlife captive are important steps to take towards safeguarding wild animals, but teaching children this valuable lesson can also start at home. Encouraging kids to respect snails, slugs, and hedgehogs and to observe local birds, squirrels, and other backyard buddies while interacting respectfully with nature is a beneficial manner of teaching them that all animals form ecosystems that thrive best when undisturbed.
Children who learn not to step purposefully on spiders or burn ants with magnifying glasses may be more likely to develop lasting compassion for all creatures, alongside an underlying sense of responsibility for the good health of our planet.
It is true that our children will inherit the planet as we leave it for them, but why not teach them that with this comes the responsibility of leaving the world a little bit better for the next generation. By instilling these lessons early on, we can ensure that the planet and all of its inhabitants have a safe, clean environment to live grow and thrive in for many years to come.
Lead image by Philip Gielen / Deviant Art