A Guide to the benefits of discussing sustainability with children, with some helpful tips.
As parents, it’s only natural to want the best for your children. But, when it comes to the topic of sustainability, knowing the best way to approach and teach children about this important global topic can be tricky. After all, it’s something that we, individually, don’t have any finite control over, so is it worth mentioning and explaining sustainability to children of a young age?
The answer is yes. The fact is that most of us live a fairly comfortable life as we tend to have, or have access to the things we want and need. But, this isn’t always going to be the case. As a collective, we are speeding towards irreversible damage being done to the planet, which means that, in the future, our children may not have the same things that we do if raw materials and natural resources run out.
This is why it’s important to broach the topic of sustainability with children from an age that you think it’s appropriate to do so, to ensure that future generations have the knowledge and information they need to make the right choices as they grow up.
Children of all ages will benefit from opportunities to connect with nature and experience the wonderful outdoors. It’s well known that time spent in nature allows children to form connections with the environment, as well as learn more about their place in the world. So, whilst it’s important to discuss sustainability with children, how exactly do you approach the topic with them? Let’s take a look at some tips on how best to approach the topic and the benefits of doing so.
What Is Sustainability?
Many of the things that we use every day have a limit on the amount that can be used, taken or produced. Whilst it might take hundreds or even thousands of years for resources to run out, they will eventually. Some of these resources are running out now, or are causing problems, simply because there isn’t enough for everyone, or resources are getting harder to find.
Sustainability is a way of making sure that the availability of these resources is extended to ensure that they last a long time, or even forever. People and groups from all over the world are looking at different ways in which this can happen, whilst also avoiding disrupting anyone’s life.
The resources that we use are important to many different aspects of our lives. From transport and technology to governments and education, these are things that will still be important to people in 1, 10 and even 100 years into the future. The problem is, however, that the resources may have run out by then.
If we want to continue living happily in the way that we do now, then we simply need to start discussing sustainability more openly and accept that we may need to look for newly-inveted materials or natural resources that can be quickly and easily replaced – sustainable sources that will keep replenishing no matter how much we use, take out or who wants to use them.
If your child is aged between 4-7, then broaching the topic of sustainability with a storybook might be more impactful than simply sitting and discussing the topic. Reading stories with your child creates a bonding opportunity and is also an excellent way to introduce them to difficult topics, such as sustainability and the environment.
By focusing the story on other characters rather than themselves, they will then be more likely to recognise the scenarios in the real world by relating back to the story. You could start with much loved classics, such as Charlotte’s Web, The Lorax or Where The Wild Things Are.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to introduce your children to the topic of sustainability is through the notion of sustainability in the home. Getting them to recognise things such as when the rubbish is full, or if the recycling has been mixed up is a quick task that they can take responsibility for. Other ways include trying to reduce the amount of food waste generated after mealtimes, making sure that teps are turned off when brushing their teeth and only putting clothes in the washing basket if they’re actually dirty, instead of after each wear.
For younger children, being given a responsibility of sustainability in the home can help to develop their independence, as well as forming sustainable habits that will follow them into adulthood. For younger children, checking the recyling is a small task that they can do and get in the habit of, whilst for older children, then could be the “energy saver” around the home, where it’s their responsibility to turn off any lights or appliances left on.
Naturally, you will be more respectful and interested in things if you spend time with them and the same can be said for the outdoors. Think about it, if children spend more time watching screens or on devices compared to being outdoors in nature, they will be more respectful and interested in the thing that they spend the most of their time doing, so why not flip it?
When was the last time you went out as a family on a bike ride or headed to the beach for a relaxing day?
Simply getting out to enjoy nature in your own neighbourhood provides you with many opportunities to discuss sustainability and the environment around you. If you want to further promote proper environment care and sustainability, you could take a bag and collect rubbish whilst out on a walk, set up a bug hotel in the woods that you can go back and visit or head to a water source, such as a river or stream, and explain the cycle of water and how what is used at home comes from water sources like the one you are looking at.
Going back to sustainability in the home, you can further introduce your child to sustainability through the materials you choose to use. Making a point of cutting down on single use plastic in the home, such as with food choices or products, is something that your child will pick up on as they grow up and inevitably carry with them when it comes to them making their own choices in the future.
There are many easy ways that you can use sustainable materials around the home in place of wasteful materials which are great for teaching children about sustainable practices. If your little one likes drinking using a straw at home or whilst out and about, give them their own reusable straw that they can look after themselves and use when wanted. For school, instead of plastic lunchboxes or sandwich bags, you could give them reusable snack bags or make your own beeswax food wraps!
There are so many ways in which you can use sustainable materials in and around the home. We all know that plastic is a growing problem, so why not start here and go on a hunt around the home with your children and look for single use plastic and discuss how you could possibly change your habits. To keep things fun and interesting, why not visit a local refill store and make it into a weekly habit?
If your little one likes their vegetables, then why not consider starting your own vegetable patch at home? You don’t need lots of space, even if you live in an apartment you can create a windowsill vegetable garden! Planting seeds, watering and caring for plants as they grow is a great way to teach your children where food comes from and how cutting down on food waste can help save a whole host of different resources, such as water and plastic.
Through growing their own vegetables, children then learn about the process of food and then also opens up the potential conversations around climate change and food production. You can easily grow vegetables such as salad leaves, tomatoes, herbs, peas and beans in a window box, or if you have the room for a dedicated space outdoors, carrots, potatoes, radishes and onions are easy to care for, too!
Knowing how to approach certain topics with children can be a daunting task, however when it comes to sustainability, it doesn’t need to be! As it is something that people all over the globe are concerned about, this means that there are plenty of resources and ideas that you can use when it comes to educating your children.
Sustainability is a life habit and, the earlier your children start learning about it, the more likely they are to stick to these habits throughout their life. Even the smallest steps are worth celebrating when it comes to sustainability, so be sure to make a big deal of these victories with your children!
About the Author
Natalie Wilson is a freelance writer with a particular focus on sustainability and eco-friendly living. Whether you’re looking for a new meditation method or some facts on plastic pollution, she’s your girl! When not writing, Natalie can be found heading to the gym or walking her dog. You can connect with her on Twitter @NatWilson976