Even young kids understand "Being Green" according to Cary Institute in Millbrook

Kids can learn to care for the earth

Kids can learn to care for the earth

It’s no secret our children’s future is dependent upon the well-being of Mother Earth. Celebrating Earth Day in the Hudson Valley is a good opportunity to introduce our kids to the green movement sweeping the nation. Luke Spencer, a community liaison for the 
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development in Callicoon agrees. “We are just starting to realize that kids do want to go green and make the world a better place.” We double our efforts when we get our kids involved and help. Making the choice to go green for Earth Day and giving our planet some TLC is easier than you think.

Like we teach math, we can teach caring for the earth

It’s never too early to start to educate our kids to take care of the earth and how each of us can make a difference. Chances are that once they understand the importance of going green they will be eager to pitch in and do their part to make the world a better place. According to Chad Chitwood, a previous director of Earth Day at The Earth Day Network, headquartered in Washington, DC, “It is vital that children learn early on that the Earth and its natural resources must be handled with care.  Good stewardship of our planet can be taught just like we teach children math, in math there is a right answer and there is a right way to treat your community, forests and animals.  When they can see the results of their actions they take it more seriously."

Can start teaching kids as early as kindergarten age

Megan McLean a former education program specialist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, believes that as early as kindergarten youngsters are aware of basic environmental issues like recycling and water conservation. In her experience, “kids recognize that environmental issues exist and that they are willing to do their part in contributing to a healthy environment.” She adds that a recent study examining children’s knowledge of nature revealed that kids are better at naming Pokémon characters than wildlife species.

Trish Poe, executive director of the international organization, Kids for a Clean Environment  (Kids F.A.C.E.), agrees and says that by the time a child is eight they desire to belong and be a part of the events they hear about. She remarks, “If we break down their concerns and address the issue on their level and offer them activities where they can do something, then it’s an incredible teachable moment.”

They have found that when a child is concerned about an issue, the best thing is to find ways for the child to become involved and do something. “It’s vital that parents direct that concern into an activity which will result in that child’s ability to make positive things happen.”

READ MORE: Nature-based education for kids

Start simple

Something as simple as taking young children out on a walk in your backyard or neighborhood and identifying tree species or animal tracks is a great way to celebrate earth day. Spencer suggests starting an Earth Day resolution to be a greener family, like having a light’s-out night once a month or hanging clothes out to dry or even the classic “plant a tree” project in the neighborhood makes a difference and raises awareness.

An eco-friendly lifestyle doesn’t have to be difficult or costly; the small actions we take today can lessen our impact on the planet for tomorrow. 

Activities for toddlers and preschoolers

  1. Conserve: Encourage kids to turn off the water when brushing their teeth, and turn on when rinsing. Also, prompt them to color on both sides of the paper, and put their night light on a timer. Discuss conservation in kid-friendly language. Organize a puzzle and toy swap with other families, involve your child by having them make the choice, remembering to choose clean and gently used items.

  2.  Get in Touch With Nature: Go on an outdoor adventure.  Bring gloves and a trash bag and pick up litter as you walk through your neighborhood. Talk about how trees help the earth in simple language, how we can help trees and be a part of the solution. Extend the lesson by making leaf or bark rubbings. If your child shows a particular interest in bees, butterflies or insects, research their role in the ecosystem --  keeping it basic and upbeat.

  3. Read all about it: Visit the library and choose books that have lessons about the environment, like Dr. Suess’ The Lorax.

  4. Plant: Place a potato or avocado seed in water and set in the sun.  Monitor its growth, and eventually replant in a recycled container.

  5. Trash to Treasure: Create recycled art projects like a mosaic from crushed egg shells or make placemats from their drawings. Glue onto cardboard and cover with clear contact.

Activities for grade schoolers

  1. Less is more: Encourage your grade-schooler to use the library to borrow DVD’s, CD’s, books and video games. Libraries are a wonderful resource—and they are free!

  2. Unplug: Prompt your grade-schoolers to unplug computers, ipods, and cell phones each night before bed. Have a contest to see who can last the longest, and make that a teachable moment.

  3. Recycle: Have your child go through clothing and toys and rather than discard, donate them to a local charity.

  4. Swap it: Older kids can swap books, CD’s, videos, and everyone goes home with something new. Recycle:  You know when you make a whole bunch of copies in error? Don’t throw them away, store them near the printer for notes and doodles.

Activities for tweens & teens

  1. Conserve: Teach them walking is cool! Encourage your kids to bike or walk instead of driving them everywhere in the car—educate them about why you are doing this and how it can help the planet.

  2. Reuse: After reading magazines, share it with a friend or donate to a local hospital or community center.

  3. Be a smart consumer: Encourage your older kids to shop for printer paper, notebooks, stationary with those marked as recycled and as a family shop at thrift stores, consignment shops, and garage sales.

  4. Recycle: Help your child organize a recycling drive in their school to raise money. Use the money to buy flowers to beautify the neighborhood.
Freelance writer, Dawn Marie Barhyte, is also a former educator who has taught all levels.  She resides in Warwick, New York.