Every April more than half a billion people worldwide celebrate Earth Day. Communities use the day to raise awareness about issues that range from cleaning up a local river to taking on global warming. Parents can also use the day to talk to their children about how human habits affect the planet.
"The truth is that early childhood is the best time to establish green habits," says Alan Greene, MD, a pediatrician and the author of Raising Baby Green (Jossey-Bass). When you're teaching your 1-year-old to brush her teeth, for instance, adding the water-conservation step of turning off the tap hardwires that action into the process. The payoff: You save roughly 2.5 gallons of water from disappearing down the drain every 60 seconds the tap is on -- multiplied by twice a day for a lifetime! Read on for six more ways to raise the next generation of planetary stewards.
The best news about passing on green habits to your kids is this: What's good for the planet is almost always beneficial for their health too. For example, just the simple act of getting outdoors fosters a love of nature. "Even babies can appreciate the feeling of a fresh breeze or the freedom of tumbling on a picnic blanket," says Kathleen Rogers, the president of Earth Day Network (earthday.net) and a mother of two. "Kids are natural naturalists."
As children grow, parents can teach -- but not preach -- a respect for nature. If you see a plastic sack floating down a river, explain how pollution hurts wildlife, Rogers suggests, or join a cleanup effort at a local park or beach. This shows kids not only that we should help the planet but that we can, adds Lori Bongiorno, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Green, Greener, Greenest (Perigee Trade).