Getting kids involved in sustainable practices at home can be easy! If you help kids understand how small, easy actions can help our environment and make a big difference, most children will be keen to help, with continued reminders and positive encouragement.
Introduction to Sustainable Practices at Home
The first step to getting kids involved in sustainable practices at home is making sure they understand the ‘Why’. Children naturally want to please, but they also need to understand the why of what we are asking them to do. If we help them to learn that small actions can make a big difference, and explain in child friendly terms the impact of sustainable practices, we are creating positive habits that will hopefully carry on throughout adolescence and adulthood, creating a new generation of environmentally responsible humans.
1. Turning the Lights Off
It’s a simple task, and easy enough for even the youngest children to manage, assuming they can reach the switch but how often do we just do this ourselves, rather than trying to make our children conscious of walking out of a room and switching the light off. Yes, it will take a few reminders and I’ve been guilty myself of just turning a light off, rather than say it again to my child, but the more we remind them and clearly explain the why, the more likely it will become a habit for them. Rather than saying it as a statement or a clear request, you could phrase it like a question to them, of how they could help make a difference to their environment and help save power, save electricity, right now? They may look around and realise, without you simply telling them; ‘Oh, I could turn my light off!’
2. Learn to use the half flush
The half flush on the toilet is something that us as adults may take for granted in the way that, we understand what it is there for, but as our children toilet train and start using the toilet independently, unless we explain to them that the half flush uses less water to flush than the full flush, they may not ask, and we may not tell them, so it could be that there are multiple times the full flush is being used when unnecessary, therefore wasting probably hundreds of litres of water.
Children will probably enjoy learning that they have the power to actually CHOOSE how much water runs through the toilet for a flush, based on what is going into the toilet. Children are generally fascinated with their own bodies and what comes out of them, as they also love having the power of making important choices in their life. A clear explanation, perhaps by a visual representation in the bathroom or kitchen with containers of water showing how much water may get used for a half flush, and then how much for a full flush would help them to see and understand the difference they can make when choosing the appropriate button! (Don’t forget to then pour those containers of water you used for the visual representation, in your plants!)
3. Planting, gardening and watering
Most children love sensory experiences and planting and gardening is a wonderful way to get their hands dirty, for them to contribute to caring for their natural environment, learning about what plants need, getting interested in the herbs and veggies you could be growing as well as then consuming, and taking ownership over continued care for them by watering the plants, with child size watering cans, or the hose with a nozzle if you have one.
You could take a trip together to go and buy some seeds, allowing your children to choose what they would like to grow, thinking of ways they would like to eat that fresh produce once it is ready to be harvested. Children will most likely enjoy watching the seeds sprout, observing the growth and being part of caring for those plants, as well as harvesting them when that time comes and will probably be more likely to enjoy consuming the produce too! Raw or cooked is up to you, but my son loves picking fresh snow peas and eating them on the spot!
It’s so important for children to learn and understand where their food comes from and how to care for their natural environment.
4. Use a shower timer
Placing a sand 3 minute timer in the shower is a helpful way to reduce water use and for children to get involved in water saving practices. Most children will enjoy racing against the timer and trying to make sure they get all their washing done before the timer runs out. It can become like a game for them, though for some, the novelty may run out so a simple reward system may be appropriate for those children who tend to want to spend longer in there and need a small incentive to stick to the timer.
You may not have enough buckets or kitchen containers to do a visual representation for this one, showing your children how much water can get wasted if they stay in the shower only a few more minutes so you could google amounts of water wasted in showers or get some info here on the GWM water website about how much water we use. You could encourage them to visualise these amounts as well as reminders of what the word drought means, why we need to conserve water and the fact that drought affects ALL of us, when it is severe. Good water conserving habits are important long term, especially in Australia with our recent drought history.
5. Learn the difference between rubbish and recycling – using the correct bins
This one can be an easy one for kids if you have separate bins or containers in the kitchen for dividing rubbish and recyclable items. If you have colour coded bins outside, show the kids the different coloured lids and what can and can’t be placed in those bins. When it’s time to throw away a cereal box, a plastic container, a glass jar or an egg carton, quiz your children on where the container needs to go. They may enjoy putting some heavy gumboots on and helping to squash the cardboard boxes flat on the kitchen floor before placing them in recycling, and they may also like thinking of uses for washed out glass jars, such as placing toys in them, or other food items such as sultanas or nuts.
Children may really enjoy thinking creatively of ways we can re use certain containers, giving them a few examples, it can be surprising what they come up with!
Cool Australia also have a lot of helpful info about recycling on their website.
6. Using the sun to dry clothes
Getting children involved in pegging small face washers, socks or undies onto a drying rack or small clothesline, rather than placing all clothes in the tumble dryer to dry, helps them to understand the importance of using the sun as our friend to dry wet clothes, rather than wasting electricity by using the dryer. It is also a great fine motor activity, helping them to peg items on or take them off develops their hand eye coordination, as well as encourages them to help out around the house with important chores that need to be done for the household. Whether you get pocket money involved or not is up to you.
Simple statements such as “Oh, it’s a beautiful sunny day today, perfect for drying all our clothes, so we don’t have to waste our electricity! Thank you Mr Sun for shining today!”, and then getting kids involved in hanging some of those items, reinforces the concept that harnessing that heat and energy from the sun is a valuable thing.
7. Using recycled paper
Using recycled paper for craft projects, using recycled wrapping paper for gifts, grabbing used envelopes to write to do lists, all sends the message to children that it’s important to re use paper where we can. It may be helpful for their understandings to show them a YouTube video on trees getting cut down with a simple explanation of where our paper comes from and the fact that if we don’t recycle our paper, it means more and more trees have to be cut down which severely impacts our natural environment, as well as the birds and animals that need those trees.
Holding onto egg cartons, cardboard boxes and wrapping paper for art and craft sends that important message, and children usually prefer those items to get creative anyway! It’s fun to think of new uses for grocery packaging! You would be surprised how many bibs and bobs, bits and pieces can be used for craft projects, such as plastic lids, cork pieces, bits of string, cardboard tubes, and boxes, as well as ways we can recycle paper around the home.
8. Read books about recycling, sustainability and caring for the planet
Intentionally providing books to children about the impact our actions can have on the wider world can be SO valuable. Some visual representations by way of books that portray masses of rubbish at dumps, pictures of deforestation, drought affected farmland and other pictures can help children to understand the difference they can make to the world and how small changes from everyone add up to big differences in the wider community.
It may not be a good idea to overwhelm children with this information so be mindful about what is age appropriate but a library trip and asking your librarian about what kind of environmental/sustainability books may be age appropriate for your child is a good start.
9. Encourage library borrowing
Using your local library rather than buying new books can make a big impact in terms of more printing and saving paper! Visiting your local library with your child and borrowing books for yourself, communicates to children that you value books, reading, development of language skills and literature, as well as forms positive habits surrounding regular borrowing and reducing unnecessary spending on new books as well as unnecessary printing of them.
Once children can see that this is something that is valued, it can encourage them to regularly borrow from their school library. There are many children these days that do not borrow from their school library and there is also lots of new book buying within the community. I am certainly an advocate for regular reading and I do treat my son every now and then to new books for birthdays and Christmas gifts, but once he is finished reading them, we either donate the books to friends, to a library, or we re sell them online for pocket money!
My son also goes through particular book series quite quickly so he is a keen library borrower, often asking me when the next library trip can be!
10. Less screen time, more outdoor time!
If children love their outdoor play time, they will want more of it! Outdoor play encourages the development of fundamental movement skills, imagination, creative thinking, problem solving, risk taking, coordination skills, encourages an interest in nature and their natural environment, and REDUCES SCREEN TIME! Ultimately, the less screen time the children have, the better it is for the environment, for your electricity bill and for their brain development! NSW Govt’s Munch and Move have some helpful fact sheets, you can check out their facts about reducing screen time in young children with this resource here.
So providing children with versatile outdoor equipment, toys and resources (can very well be recycled materials), further encourages them to take more interest in being outdoors and valuing this type of play over indoor play with technology, thus helping them to learn that this is better for the environment, it saves electricity and makes them feel good about enjoying their outdoor play!
Summary of Sustainable Practices at home; Getting Kids Involved
It can be so easy to get children involved in sustainable practices at home, it just takes some simple conversations in everyday life, and some clear explanations to help them understand why these practices are so important. The key messages here are simple; saving water, saving electricity, recycling household items and taking care of our natural environment. It’s just that we can make a HUGE difference with SMALL actions. If your child attends daycare or preschool, there is no doubt they would be getting the children involved in sustainable practices in childcare too! You can read my article on the easiest ways to incorporate Sustainability in Childcare here.
There would be hundreds of ways we can make more of a difference in reducing our environmental footprint and taking care of our planet. ABC.net.au have some other great ideas you can check out here.
Tell me your suggestions, I would love to hear your ideas and how you get your kids involved! Tell me in the comments below!