Teaching Your Kids About the Environment
As many parents know, as soon as children start to talk, they start to ask questions. Studies say that most 4-year-olds ask about an average of 400 questions per day (though they haven’t met my niece, who asks that many questions before breakfast). “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is that flower yellow?” and of course, probably the most asked question when toddlers begin to stretch their limits -“Why NOT?” Yes, children between the ages of 4 to 7 can be notoriously curious about anything and everything. They start to realize that there’s more to life than themselves and mommy and daddy. When kids begin school especially, they start to learn new concepts and ideas, from which more questions arise. With the world’s attention on the environment and climate change, your child will probably have questions about these issues as well.
You may find yourself on tricky ground and you may have some questions. It may seem simple now, but what do you do when, as your tucking your child into bed, he or she looks up at you and asks you what global warming is? Your answer, of course, would depend on how old they are, how mature they are and what concepts they can understand or deal with.
The problem is, because of the influence of media, outside sources get to kids before the parents do. An Inconvenient Truth was a great documentary – but watching the polar ice caps melting might give young kids nightmares. Yes, this is what’s happening now, but should you really burden your 3-year-old about the dangers of carbon emissions?
For much younger kids, it’s much better to let them enjoy their childhood, and spare them sleepless nights worrying about how that trip in the car might increase the earth’s temperature. However, it’s a good idea to encourage them to practice good habits, even if they don’t know why. For example, get them into the habit of turning off the tap when they brush their teeth, or bringing them on short trips on foot or by public transport. Getting them used to such earth-saving habits will make a difference later on when they are older.
As they grow up, encourage them to observe the world around them. If they see you recycling and separating trash, they will ask questions. Be direct when answering their questions and try not to sound condescending; be patient when explaining things to them. Don’t sugarcoat your answers but be factual. If they learn about any misconceptions, correct them instantly but don’t berate them.
If your kids love to read, there are plenty of books out there geared towards children. Green With Me (written by Rebecca Mattano and Kristen Collier; illustrated by Kevin Scott Collier), The Everything Kids’ Environment Book: Learn How You Can Help the Environment-by Getting Involved at School, at Home, or at Play (written by Sheri Amsel and Christopher J. Maron) and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming (written by Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch) are some titles which are worth reading with your kids.
Of course, the best way to teach them would be through examples – children learn best from observing those around them. Practice what you preach, and you’ll be giving your kids some of the best lessons in life.
In the end, it’s really up to the parent as to how, what and when their kids should learn about the environment. It’s best to be prepared for such a time when your kids begin to ask questions, and hopefully you’ll be up to the challenge of raising environmentally conscious kids. But when they start asking where babies come from…that’s something we’ll leave up to you to answer.
By Maria Belgado
Eco-Friendly Kids (UK)
EPA Environment Kids Club
Kids Vs. Global Warming
Facts, Not Fear: Teaching Children About the Environment (excerpts from the book)
Teaching K.A.T.E. (Kids About The Environment)