It’s never too early to begin raising young environmental stewards and engaging in honest conversations about some of the ecological challenges that the world is facing. The most effective way to teach kids about environmental issues is by empowering them through action and a sense of agency rather than overwhelming them with data or projected outcomes. Read ahead for some of our favorite activities that will connect your kids to nature, evoke hopefulness and have an impact:
Get your hands dirty
Spending time amongst plants and soil is a fantastic way to engage all of the senses, cultivate relationships with the more-than-human world, and develop a greater sense of both independence and interdependence. If you have the space and sunlight, grow pollinator-supporting plants like yarrow, lavender, thyme, oregano, beebalm, milkweed and echinacea (make sure to avoid pesticides) and discuss the critical role that bees and butterflies play in allowing some of our favorite foods, like apples, strawberries, almonds and cucumbers to grow and flourish. Unfussy vegetables like radishes, carrots and greens are fast-growing, require minimal effort and don’t require a yard; pots on a porch or balcony will work. Growing veggies together is a great opportunity to talk about soil health, the carbon cycle, photosynthesis and the vitamins and minerals in the foods we eat.
Connect with what’s on your plate
Dinnertime is a prime opportunity to talk about how food connects to both the environmental and social issues that we care about. For instance, when eating fruits or vegetables sourced from a nearby or values-aligned farm, or when digging into Good Catch’s kid-friendly, Plant-Based Breaded Fish Sticks, explain how voting with our forks allows us to help invest in a sustainable and just food system future.
Help amplify their voice
Start by creating space for open-ended conversation, asking them about the places that they love and want to see protected, about their concerns for the planet and how they’ve experienced the weather changing, about what makes them feel safe and what change they’d like to see. Then, help them find an appropriate venue to share their climate story. Make art or posters together and bring them to the next climate event or rally in your area. Help craft a letter to send to local representatives or commentary to send to the local paper. Support them in feeling seen and heard as budding activists and advocates for the issues dear to their heart.
Introduce the 7 Rs
Practice the motto: rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, rot and recycle, in order of priority before throwing something in the trash. In particular, the whole family can get involved in the following stages:
- Rethink: Ask your child to take inventory of what’s being thrown away for a week or two, making note of the particular items that are piling up. Talk about the areas where a behavior shift is possible, like cutting back on takeout or minimizing bottled beverage purchases.
- Refuse: Try a “no new buys” month where everything besides agreed-upon items, such as food and household essentials, is off-limits for purchase.
- Repurpose: Breathe new life into items that otherwise might be thrown away by utilizing them as art supplies for the next craft day.
Participate in a cleanup day
To help drive home the importance of practicing the 7 Rs, participate in a local community trash cleanup. If you live near the ocean, it’s powerful for kids to witness firsthand how excessive plastic production and poor waste management are impacting ocean health and the sea creatures that they love. Check out the Surfrider Foundation’s upcoming volunteer events in your area or host a beach cleanup with family and friends (make sure to bring reusable work gloves, trash bags, hand sanitizer, and a first aid kit).