Kids and Sustainability: Teaching Them Green Habits Early

kids running in a summer field

How can we connect our kids to sustainable living and green lifestyles? Here are some ideas on how to do  that, and to help us make those same connections.


Kids want to learn. They are designed to be curious. And because we live in a new century where things are changing fast, there’s even more to explore when it comes to our natural environment and how we relate to it. More and more, we’re learning that we are not separate from our environment. The environment is us.

So in the light of that, how do we pass on our wisdom about sustainable living to our children? How do we encourage kids to gain wisdom of their very own? Well here are a few ideas to get your creative brains working when it comes to sustainability and kids.

Create a family garden

Teaching your children that food doesn’t just come in paper boxes or plastic wrap is a great first step in getting them to value their vital connection to the natural world. Even if you live in an apartment or other home without green space, a few pots on the kitchen windowsill will serve as a means to show them a natural, and essential process when it comes to food.

Grow vegetables, herbs, and other plants, then teach your children how to incorporate the fruits of their labor into family meals. Your kids will get a kick out of watching their plantings sprout from seeds into full-grown plants, and meals will become a source of pride. If they take to the idea, consider creating your own secret garden.

Encourage outdoor play

Turning off the television, unplugging the gaming consoles, and tucking the action figures and Barbie dolls into storage totes for a while can be the start of a new set of patterns in the life of a child . A fascinating world awaits outside the four walls of the playroom, from interesting plants to creepy-crawly insects, to birds of prey in the sky.

The more your children know about their environment, the easier it becomes for them to respect it. Teach them the names of plants and animals you encounter during a nature walk in a nearby park. Take a camera, or a notebook, or a drawing pad. Let them take pictures, draw, and journal what they see on the journey. Share your thoughts about the beauty of nature while you’re spending time with them in it. Playing outside is healthy for everyone, including you.

two sisters outside kids children

Discuss consumption

Putting the concept of consumption front and center in your discussions with kids accomplishes at least two goals. First,  it reduces trash from the landfills and second, it reinforces the importance of stewardship. Talk to your kids about the cost of material goods, and where these goods come from. Discuss the issues about managing the “stuff” in our lives, including the impulse to consume things that we don’t necessarily need.

From here, a good assessment of their personal inventory (and yours too!) is a good next step. If you involve your kids in the process, they feel respected and included, as well as reminding them that their choices are important when it comes to the “stuff” in their lives. And they will  have a better idea of what ownership, consumption, and stewardship of resources really means.

Foster a sense of cooperation

Kids love co-operation and to positively contribute their own effort into things that benefit your household. This can translate into all kinds of day to day activities, which can include chores around sorting and taking out recycling. It can also be about brainstorming with them on ways to conserve water, electricity, or to minimize the use of home heating and cooling. It can certainly involve them in creating action plans together to see those ideas through.

The popular idea that kids will someday inherit the natural world is not exactly accurate. If they are in the world now, then it’s already their business to be responsible when it comes to living in it in cooperation with others. Giving them a chance to contribute is the best way for them to experience the reality of this.

kids recycling box front lawn

Involve kids in your decisions

Children can live a sustainable lifestyle just like their parents. Talk about reducing waste in the home, or about the simple act of turning off lights whenever a family member leaves a room. Involve the kids in decisions about the home when it comes to consumption, water use, or energy use. This doesn’t mean you have to consult them before you buy a new appliance; just let them hear you talking about the most energy efficient windows or the most sustainable floors.

These proactive approaches help keep sustainable living in the backs of your kids’ minds, but remember the similarities between little brains and sponges. When parents live sustainable lifestyles, their kids take note. And that connection between ourselves and the natural world becomes stronger, too.


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