This post is taken from Sustainability in the Suburbs by environmental engineer and award-winning sustainability educator, Laura Trotta. Sustainability in the Suburbs is a green living guide for modern families and is available for purchase here.
Raising eco-conscious kids has benefits for children, adults and for our environment as a whole.
Developing a love and respect for nature as a child makes us more likely to value its conservation in future. All aspects of our society – finance, politics, insurance, education, medicine, engineering and science, the arts and even defence – need leaders who value and care for our environment.
Whether or not you are a parent, auntie, uncle, or teacher, you have a role to play in nurturing the next generation of eco-conscious kids to become adults who care and advocate for our planet.
There are five core ways in which we can nurture our next generation by raising eco-conscious kids.
- Switch screen time for green time
In 2014 New York Times reporter Nick Bilton famously asked Steve Jobs, “So your kids must love the iPad.” Jobs answered, “They haven’t used it yet. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” Despite building one of the world’s biggest tech companies and earning billions of dollars from the success of devices like the iPod, iPad and iPhone, Jobs knew then what we know now. Screens are designed to be addictive and that too much technology is not the best for a child’s optimum development.
Whether we love it or loathe it, our kids will inherit a digital world.
If used the right way for the right amount of time, technology can certainly help our kids. But, like anything, if it’s used excessively or inappropriately, it can derail their development.
Not every kid likes coming off screen time abruptly and many will have a techno-tantrum as a result. To avoid the techno-tantrum a positive transition activity is needed because their brain is getting a burst of dopamine when they’re on a screen.
Green time is the best way to calm their nervous system once they come off their device.
When kids are out in nature, it allows their brain to calm down, recalibrates their nervous system, gets them physically active and helps to overcome some of the potentially damaging effects of screen time. Many children these days are nature-starved. The local park, beach, lake, or even your backyard are obvious locations where you and your children can connect with nature. Even children living in major cities can play with sticks, roll in the grass, make mud pies and jump in puddles.
- Educate your kids about sustainability
Reading books about the environment and sustainability to our children is one of the best ways to educate them in how to care for and protect their planet.
The growing number of books for children and teens focused on caring for the environment help nurture sustainability values within your child from an early age. I love the Little Green Books series for teaching younger children about sustainability and of course, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is always a popular choice. Reading is also an activity that can be eco-friendly and free, just join your local community library to start enjoying the benefits.
- Encourage Eco Play
Given the global toy market reached almost $95 Billion USD in 2020, it’s not surprising that many homes and landfills are overflowing with toys. Many commercial toys are designed to be short-lived and are easily broken and then discarded soon after purchase. Many of these are also made of plastic, which we know never breaks down in our environment.
Surely there are more sustainable ways to entertain our kids!
Moving from relying on commercial toys to eco-play activities does require creativity and planning but the benefits for your children, home and environment are worth the effort. With a little imagination and planning you can give kids a taste of some common eco-play activities from generations past and in the process gain a tidier lounge room floor and healthier family budget.
Favourite eco-play activities of my sons when they were toddlers were emptying out my kitchen cupboards and having them match the lids to the container. Turning cardboard boxes into cubby houses, trains, tunnels, or boats provided hours and hours of entertainment. My sons also loved water painting. This simply involves giving your toddler a pail of water and a paint brush and sending them outside to paint anything they wish. It’s the perfect toddler parent win-win, a fun craft activity with no mess to clean.
Libraries and garage sales can also be worth their weight in gold. I saved the annual membership fee for our local toy library many times over by borrowing various toys and puzzles. I especially loved the fact that as soon as my sons tired of a toy, I could replace it with another without adding clutter in my home. We also picked up a few toy bargains at local garage sales and our town’s buy swap and sell social media site. And of course, passed on many of our kids’ toys to charity stores and enjoyed knowing that we were giving the toy another lease of life to a family in need.
- Lead by example
Put simply, how can we hope that our children grow up to live sustainably and care about the environment if we’re not leading in this area? This is where we need to walk the talk and lead by example. It’s not always an easy task but don’t underestimate its effectiveness.
So tread lightly on the environment:
- Don’t just not litter yourself, make an effort to pick up other people’s litter when you’re out and about.
- Make sure you’re recycling and composting in your home and when you’re out and about, if you can’t find a recycling bin, just bring that recyclable item back home and place it in your kerbside recycling collection.
- Be a conscious consumer and be really mindful of what you purchase.
- Walk, bicycle or catch public transport wherever you can and make using your vehicle your last, not first, transport option.
- Set a technology example by managing your own screen usage and lead an active lifestyle yourself, or better still, be active together as a family.
- Create your sustainable home in the suburbs and explain to your children why you are making each change. This helps them learn along the way and become part of family decisions and the functioning of your household.
- Give kids a chance to shine
I totally understand that having your kids pitch in around the home initially takes a lot of patience, time and perhaps a few broken household items before they learn the ropes. But kids learn when you get them involved.
Perhaps you can allocate your children a section in the garden that’s their responsibility to grow what they want. Maybe they can collect the eggs from the chickens each day, or take out the rubbish or recycling, or be the light police and catch anyone out who leaves lights on in vacant rooms. If you have older children try and hand over the responsibility of cooking dinner one night a week to them. It’s not cruel. It’s not slave labour. It’s smart and it’s called insourcing.
I left home at the age of 17 years to move to the city and study at university. I left knowing how to cook, clean and run a household. While I thought I was hard done by on many occasions growing up, I didn’t fall flat on my face when I moved out of home. I just got on with living and cooked an awesome dinner from scratch and invited my university friends over to celebrate my newfound freedom!
Parenting is a tough job. We literally are raising the next generation while we’re working, managing a household and often caring for elderly family members as well. But by turning screen time into green time, educating your kids about sustainability, encouraging eco-play, leading by example and giving your kids a chance to shine, you are giving your children the best opportunity to improve their own physical and mental health. They will develop a love and respect for our environment and develop life and leadership skills which they’ll draw upon in the future and for this, future generations will thank you all.
About the Author
Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading voices on sustainability and has spent almost three decades working to protect our planet. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura’s first book, Sustainability in the Suburbs is out now. Click HERE to purchase.