You can talk yourself blue in the face, begging your kids to separate the garbage for recycling and turn off the lights to save energy but they just don’t listen. Or maybe they don’t understand. Perhaps they don’t care. But there are ways to instill these ecological values, which are still new to many people, while still having fun.
In recent years, awareness of the environment has been on the rise and many people are trying to find ways to contribute. "Now we can foster generations of kids who care about nature and want to protect it," says Melinda Pruett-Jones, executive director of Chicago Wilderness, a group of more than 200 organizations dedicated to preserving and educating Chicagoans about the nature that surrounds them.
Read a book. Instead of asking your kids to recycle or turn out the lights without explanation, bring it down to their level through a book. For younger kids, read My Bag & Me by Karen Farmer, which not only teaches your kids to be eco-friendly, but also provides them with their own reusable bag. For older kids, visit your local library and check out The Everything Kids’ Environment Book by Sherri Amsel. Filled with experiments and simple tips, elementary and middle school kids will find many great ways to help and understand the environment.
Green police. Give your kids ownership in their efforts to help the environment by giving them the power to monitor how the whole family participates in recycling or turning the lights off or not running the water while brushing teeth. Together you and your kids can come up with infractions that they have every right to call you on. Not only will it be fun for them, but it will make them more conscious of the everyday changes that can be made to help the environment.
Bring your own cup or plate. When eating fast food, do you become frustrated with all of the waste you generate? Add the lack of recycling bins in many restaurants and the amount of trash can be staggering. Instead of adding to the pileup, encourage your kids to bring their own reusable cup or plate to a restaurant.
"My daughter insists on bringing a reusable cup to restaurants and proudly tells the cashier she doesn’t need one of theirs," says Julie Dick, president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition and mom to 3-year-old Anna.
Buy a kid-sized tree. Nothing brings the growing process to life like allowing your child to plant their own tree. Don’t worry, there’s no need to go out and buy a $400 tree. Just visit the Arbor Day Foundation online at www.arborday.org. Trees can be purchased for just a few dollars that are smaller than your kids. It not only gives them a chance to help something their size grow, but they will be able to see the results firsthand. Or just visit the Web site to read the hundreds of resources they have available to educate children.
Color on both sides. Kids love to color, everyone knows that. But sometimes they color a bit on one side of the paper and toss it, ready for the next. Instead encourage your kids to use as much of the paper as possible, including the back side.
"Many things can be reused for coloring," says Dick.
Give your kids cardboard or misprinted papers or wrapping paper. Try reusing junk mail or discarded envelopes for art projects.
Get outside. What better way to connect your kids to nature than to turn off the Wii and take them outside? In many cases, kids aren’t familiar or comfortable with nature because they spend all of their time indoors.
"If parents can incorporate nature into unstructured moments, it builds children’s positive attitudes towards nature," says Pruett-Jones. "It can be as simple as taking them on a nature walk and playing I Spy."
Take a field trip. If you have a day available, take an educational field trip, but don’t tell your kids ahead of time. They’ll learn simply by observing. Do you know a local farmer? Visit them to teach your kids where food comes from.
Or visit museums across Chicagoland. Many of them have green component to their exhibits. The Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago dedicates nearly all of its child-friendly exhibits to environmentalism, making it not just educational, but fun for kids.
Bill tracking. Make the efforts hit home with older kids through bill tracking. Give them a task to keep up with, such as unplugging their computer before bed or hanging up the laundry to dry. Show them your electric or gas bill before they begin their experiment and let them keep up with it month to month. Quickly they will see what a difference their actions can make.
"Implement energy conservation with older children," says Stephenie Presseller, coordinator of Green Initiatives at the Notebaert Nature Museum. "They can track their carbon footprint through monthly bills."
Walk to school. Remember your grandparents’ stories of walking to school uphill both ways in the snow? We laughed, but our kids are sure to laugh at us when they hear how many of their parents walked or rode their bikes to school as children. Many of today’s school have adapted to the increased traffic by creating dedicated pickup lanes.
If you are within walking distance at your school, meaning the bus doesn’t pick your kids up, try walking to school this spring. It’s a great time to start with warm weather and the flowers blooming. Make it an adventure for you and the kids.
Be a role model. From the day they are born, children learn by watching their parents. They learn to smile, to drink from a cup and to speak. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if living an environmentally friendly life is part of your daily routine, your kids will pick it up too? Don’t underestimate the power of observation.
"Parents need to model an eco-friendly life to their children. Celebrate when you turn off the lights," says Pruett-Jones. "Kids that grow up living this life will easily incorporate it into their adult lives."
Michelle Sussman is a mom of two, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. Visit her on the Web at www.michellesussman.com.