17 February 2022

5 ways to teach your kids sustainability

If Greta Thunburg taught us anything (ok, she taught us a helluva lot…) it’s that kids are, now more than ever, our future. Long gone is the trope that kids should be seen and not heard; their voices are loud and clear that we all need to do better, be better and take action. Adults can learn so much from their passion to protect the earth. But, part of this is us teaching our kids practical ways to live with sustainability as a priority, tackling climate change with small changes to make a big, collective difference. Here are some cool ways to get kids conscious about sustainability and living gently.

1. Collect rainwater

One of the best things about kids is that they can find fun in things that adults categorise as a chore. Making the most of rainwater is definitely one of them. When we experience any kind of rain (including sun showers) we can harvest a lot of water to use for watering plants, and even add to the tub for bath time. Have swimmers or raincoats at the ready with a bucket (maybe even have them decorate their special ‘rain buckets’!) and collect the naturally derived water source. You’ll likely find them telling you it’s rain collecting time when there’s even a hint of a sprinkle.

You can also teach them about why doing this helps. Water is one of our most precious resources, and we rely on rainfall to fill our dams and help communities have access to water. When we have less rainfall, our dams (and water supply) can become vulnerable. So, we don’t want to waste a drop! When it rains, you can let them know it’s nature saying, “Use my tap instead”. (And, don’t worry kids, borrowing the water that falls in our backyards does not mean we are taking water for the dam).

2. Create a veggie patch

Kids learn with tactile fun, using their hands to understand how things work and grow. Having a fruit and veggie patch is a super easy, relatively cost effective way to teach them how to live sustainably in a really true sense. Grow what you eat, eat what you’re growing. You can buy starter packs, ranging from a few dollars for a little strawberry patch to a few hundred dollars for a more sophisticated set up (that can still fit neatly in even the smallest of outdoor areas). This shows them that their food doesn’t just ‘come from the shops’ in endless supply. There’s a process and supply chain that gets it into the supermarket that can be damaging to the environment. Your little veggie patch isn’t going to put farmers out of a job, but it will teach kids that a big part of sustainability is only using and consuming what we need, and patience. It’s also a very healthy and nutritious hobby to have!

3. Teach them the three Rs

Reduce, reuse, recycle, in that order. Of course, recycling is a common habit across most households and it is incredibly easy to initiate (hello, yellow bins). The only problem with it being so easy, and its decades’ long heroing of countering landfill build up, is that it can be the default action with our trash. The other two Rs (reduce and reuse) are actually a much cooler thing for kids to understand when it comes to sustainable living. Sure, when we have to, recycling is a top option. But, what is even better is not having to throw something away at all; either because we don’t have it, or because we can reuse it. Show them some real life examples of this, such as:

  • Take them shopping with you. (Ok, we’re not saying every time, just even once or twice). Show them the plastic bags that are supplied for individual fresh produce items. Their use lasts literally the car ride home, and then is completely discarded. Either take your own smaller bags, or use none at all and do a thorough clean when you get home (reduce). Count the amount of bags you saved by doing this, while demonstrating how simple and easy it is to not use items wastefully.
  • Finished with your pasta sauce jar? Clean them up and brainstorm with the kids all the different ways you might be able to reuse the jar, rather than throwing it out. From decorated money boxes, to dream jars, to holding loose food items like nuts, desiccated coconut or flour, you’ll be able to come up with a ton of fun and conscious ways to reuse.
  • Make a fun chart that you can pop up in the kitchen that lists what can actually be recycled. For example, pizza boxes, though cardboard, are a no-no. Make them part of the recycling process. (They may even come up with some magic reuse ideas for things you’d otherwise recycle).
  • Remember reduce, reuse and recycle isn’t just about rubbish either. You can do this with water too! Reduce the length of your showers, reuse and recycle your water where you can around the home.

4. Make water saving fun

A kid is not going to be excited about you counting down the minutes to end their shower, or being told to turn the tap off when they brush their teeth. Again, explaining to them that every time we use water, we are borrowing from the dam, but, saving how much we borrow can be fun. Pop on their favourite song (assuming it’s not Bohemian Rhapsody or Symphony No.9, we are aiming for 4 minutes in the buff!) when they’re in the shower; when the song is done, so are they. Make it a race for how quickly they can clean their toothbrush, and have a special cup or drink bottle that they drink from all day (to avoid 15 cups to wash at the end of the day).

5. Really teach them about sustainability

Fun activities are wonderful for getting kids enthusiastic about sustainable habits, but it’s also important that they understand why, in ways that are appropriate to their age. Climate issues can be delivered with a lot of doom and gloom which just shouldn’t be on the shoulders of little ones. Instead, check with their school library or your local community library or bookstore for the options they have that teach kids the importance of decreasing our footprint, embracing helping the earth and all the fun and effective ways we can make big deal changes. To get started, here are some great suggestions!

  • You Can Change the World by Lucy Bell
  • Compost Stew: An A-Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary MKenna
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss
  • Eco Warriors by Campbell Books