Teaching young children to care about the environment

Teach children how to recycle and conserve energy by incorporating small practices into daily habits.

We only have one planet, we all share it and we all need to take care of it.

We only have one planet, we all share it and we all need to take care of it.

A major theme of the 2012 Fall Extension Conference focused on the anticipated problem of generating enough food, energy and access to water for densely populated generations of the future. How can we teach young children that they can contribute ideas to reach a solution, too? One way is teach them how to recycle and conserve energy by incorporating small practices into daily habits.   

If your goal is to help your children care about the environment, it is my hope that in sharing some of the steps my family takes, you will be inspired to take some of the same in your family. Maybe it will help them to later impress on their children that we have only one planet, we all share it and we all need to take care of it.

One of the things we have done as a family is recycle water. Water that is left in glasses is used for the plants or put in the cat’s water dish. In the living room, there is a box that catches all paper that is recyclable. Plastic container are washed and set out in containers. Broken glass has its own separate container (only adults are responsible for that one). The kids would help sort books and clothing and donate to resale stores if they were not in decent shape, they were recycled. It’s a rule that in all rooms that are not being used, the lights in that room are off; the same goes for the computer and other electronics. In the kitchen, we keep a running list of items needed by the household to avoid extra trips to the store. We never left trash behind when we’re out in the world with no proper place to deposit it; that candy bar wrapper went into someone’s pocket until we got home. My daughter buys recyclable toothbrushes. I have yet to work on that one.

It does take a bit of effort and time to recycle and when one of my other not-too-environmentally-conscious kids puts items that could be recycled into the trash, it is followed by me asking, “I wonder how long it would take for that to decompose into the earth?” Usually they fish it out after. When my children were fairly young and we drove past a dump site, I explained what it was and that it would continue to grow if people did not try to recycle more. I believe that left an impression on them.

My love of nature and this beautiful world was always there, however, it wasn’t until I had children and developed a love for them that I was motivated to help in any small way to preserve the environment, so that they, too, would see this beautiful world as I had seen it.

For more articles related to child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.