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).
A few easy green practices and policies to consider:
Toddlers are fascinated by how things grow, so imagine how powerful your child will feel when the seed she's pushed into the soil results in an 8-foot-high sunflower, says Lynda Fassa, of Tarrytown, New York, the author of Green Babies, Sage Moms (NAL Trade). This mother of three encourages parents to get kids gardening, even if that means tending to a terra-cotta pot on a windowsill.
When buying and preparing food and disposing of food waste, we make environmental choices virtually every step of the way, Gordon says. And because these tasks are so repetitive, children have ample opportunity to internalize "how Mom and Dad do it." For better or worse, Gordon adds, parents' habits will shape the choices kids make. Little explaining is needed: If Dad rinses out the tuna can and sorts it for recycling, that action simply becomes part of the drill. Other green food habits:
As these books become household favorites, your kids will internalize their eco-friendly messages:
Earth Day Network calls on us to think of Earth Day as "a day of action and community," Rogers says. Start by checking out earthday.net, which posts thousands of activities around the country and invites organizers to upload info on their events, no matter how small. To involve your neighborhood or school: