5 Tips for Teaching Green Living Early

Why you are never too young to go green

When did you start to feel the pull of nature? Was it when you first watched the lightning show outside the window or the rainbow afterward, which seemed to touch the edge of the world?

Was it when you explored the shady underparts of the thickest part of the yard, where spiders live or went looking for the weirdest bugs you could find? Do memories come flooding back with the intoxicating smell of the rain (called petrichor, by the way)?

Young hearts are captivated by nature’s canvas, especially during the childhood years. Everything is new, exciting and wonderful. Everything is seen with new eyes and seems like a magic trick.

Children have a special perspective on green spaces and quirky creatures that adults should admire, and encourage.

Here are five tips for instilling a passion for green living in your kids:

1. Monkey See, Monkey Do

It might sound obvious, but children will always be much better imitators than they are students. Adults do it. Children see it. They learn to do it that way, too. The principle applies as much to table manners as to care for the environment and fostering green habits.

When children live in a home which appreciates and identifies the flowers and the birds in the garden, by name, they become birders and gardeners. When the household recycles and composts, it becomes second-nature to all its occupants. When adults make an effort to replace single-use plastics and take fabric shopping bags to the store, children learn this is how life is done.

Kids see you. Everything you do. So, kids do it, too.

2. Give them Responsibility

It is surprising how keen children are to take on responsibility. It may be their innocence, not knowing how carefree they are in their formative years. It is also part of the natural development process, preparing for a life of responsible “adult-ing”.

Give them responsibility suitable to their level. A five-year-old may not successfully administer tick medicine to a dog, but they will be enthusiastic poop-scooping assistants amidst giggles and funny faces.

A three-year-old might drown your patio pot plants with love if left to it. But they will adore feeding the chickens, or folding and tearing down the cardboard boxes for recycling.

Responsibility builds confidence and encourages participation. It develops commitment and demonstrates the trust parents are placing in them to do the right thing. There will be days where you need to step up and do it for them, but walking beside them with affirmation and praise is likely to produce better results in the long run.

Be proud of their efforts (even failures), and make room for them to grow with their responsibilities.

3. Tour the Facilities

People like knowledge, but sometimes this means learning as you go along. A lecture about composting will be torture when there are places to explore outside. Seeing, experiencing and participating in the composting process step-by-step, however, over days and weeks and months, will foster excitement about the results and leave a lasting impression.

Throw away the off-cuts together. Show them how to wet and turn the heap regularly. Point out the work of the worms and how ‘worm wee’ has made the vegetables grow quicker this week. Spread compost on new flower beds together, or pot some herbs in it.

Urge them to smell it, noticing how the completely broken down matter doesn’t have a disgusting odor like the decomposing bits. Real education is fun.

4. Experiment! Have fun!

Learning is more fun when one’s own progress is obvious. Keep a diary together of ‘scientific observations’ around the home and garden. Measure growth and time and input, for example. Get excited about recording watering, writing down a kid-friendly diary of observations (with their perspectives, drawings, notes and discoveries).

Watch things silently and talk about it afterward. Celebrate small victories (like the first peach blossom or a successful trip to the recycling plant).

Engage each of the five senses wherever possible – let them feel, taste, see, smell and listen. Above all, keep it light and laugh about small things.

Play is learning at its peak. So, play inside while you see who flattens the greatest number of boxes or who can sort tins, plastic and glass into the correct piles the fastest. Play outside, while you plant new vegetables, and when you mock charge each other with spades full of nutrient-filled chicken manure.

5. Fascinating and Fascinated

Lastly, fascination is catchy. A parent fascinated with books will grow readers. The same applies to nature-lovers. Be animated in the way you talk about green issues, even the small things like upcycling, fertilization and water conservation.

Make nature a fascinating topic of daily conversation and share your own wonder at its intricacies. It is not difficult, as you start to realize how much nature has to offer.

The world is beautiful. We just need to take the time to notice and share the magic with our children.

Did nature’s attraction start to wane for you at some point? Did you find other distractions? The young at heart are people who have relapses of awe and amazement at the beautiful intricacies of the natural world. It is never too late to start again.

May you never lose your sense of wonder.