Fun ways to teach kids to care for the environment--and make the world a better place.



Recently, my daughter received a birthday present in the mail. It came in a large carton filled with those pesky foam peanuts. Alex liked her present, but she also loved the packing material. She fashioned the foam-filled box into a lounge chair and happily proceeded to sit in it--unwittingly recycling garbage into a plaything.

Kids are natural conservationists, and with a little effort, you can cultivate that instinct into a lifelong habit of respecting the environment. "It's important to teach young children that we all need to care for our planet and that we all can make a difference," says Meredith Brennan, a Belmar, New Jersey-based educator and a consultant on environmental issues for schools, corporations, and other organizations. Here, some ways to instill those lessons.

Wear it again.

To save both water and power, scan your child's jeans or sweatpants at the end of the day and have her rewear items that aren't dirty. This will make her aware of the importance of conserving resources.

Say no to the flow.

Tell your child that she can help save gallons of water by turning off the tap while she's brushing her teeth. Explain that your city or county has to clean the water for you and you shouldn't waste it.

Re-purpose paper.

You know all those spreadsheets and document drafts that get tossed at the office? Their flip sides make great art paper, so bring some home for the kids to reuse. And don't forget the many ways your child can use old newspaper, such as creating funny hats, making papier-m?ch? items, and even finger-painting on it.

Turn it off.

Make a habit of going around the house with your child and turning off lights, the computer, the radio, and other electrical equipment not in use. Tell him that we need to conserve electric power just like water--so there will be enough for everyone.

Shop by number.

Turn environmental protection into a supermarket numbers game, suggests Calvin DeWitt, Ph.D., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Have your child check out the numbers in the small triangles on the bottoms of plastic containers. The easiest to recycle are generally 1s or 2s; ask whether higher numbers are accepted in your town's recycling program.

Grow a Garden

Do playground duty.

Grab some garbage bags, and take your kids to the park. Collect trash and talk about how you're helping take care of the environment. (Be sure to wear rubber gloves.)

Don't toss it!

bring these items to your child's preschool to be used for crafts, games, dress-up, and more.

  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Paper-towel and toilet-paper rolls
  • String
  • Stationery
  • Egg cartons
  • Milk and juice cartons
  • Coffee cans and lids
  • Bottle caps
  • Spray bottles
  • Plastic bottles and take-out containers
  • Baby-wipe boxes
  • Shoe boxes
  • Tissue boxes
  • Fabric scraps
  • Old sheets and blankets
  • Old dresses, jackets, and ties

Fix a toy.

Instead of trashing a worn or broken toy and buying a replacement, see what you can do to repair or modify it. Then say to your child, "Look, Teddy has new button eyes and a full belly now that we've restuffed him with fabric scraps."

Talk trash.

Show your child what items are recyclable, and encourage him to do his part. Give him the job of taking empty milk containers out to the "blue bin," for example. "Explain that metal cans will be reused to make more cans and that old cardboard might be used to make new paper for drawing or writing," says Laurie McLaughlin, an instructor at Penn State University's Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, in Huntington County.

Walk, don't drive.

Cut back on carbon-dioxide emissions--a primary cause of global warming--and conserve natural resources by driving less and walking more. Aside from the environmental benefits, going on foot with young children provides great physical activity.

Grow a garden.

Help your child plant and tend to a sunflower. When kids see how plants grow, they learn about the cycles of nature. Watch for birds that come to eat the seeds, and talk about how plants provide food for animals.


Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the April 2003 issue of Parents magazine.

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