Change Starts at Home: Teaching Kids About Sustainability (2021 Guide)

Teaching Kids About Sustainability - Group of kids playing with a ball that is a map of earth outdoors - Stock image from Canva

The kids of today will be the adults of tomorrow. It’s important for the future of our planet to start helping our young ones cultivate a natural interest and enthusiasm for sustainability.

Some parents might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of imparting such important knowledge. However, sustainability is a concept that most children already understand better than we think.

The idea behind sustainable living is simple: Look after the earth, and it will look after us!

Even the youngest of kids can begin to grasp this message if it is presented to them in the right way.

But what is the right way? Well, there’s more than just one!

In this guide, we will go through some simple and easy ways for parents to teach kids about environmental awareness. We’ll also highlight actionable tips about incorporating them into daily life.

Let’s jump right in!

Why is Teaching Kids About Sustainability Important?

Before we dig into the various ways in which you can kick-start your kid’s relationship with the planet, let’s discuss why it’s necessary.

Spending time in the outdoors will not only encourage kids to be more intentional and active individuals. It also shapes their perception of the environment in a crucial way.

Teaching Kids About Sustainability - Group of happy kids playing in a field with a towel held up like a tent over them

As adults, we already understand the dangers our species and planet are exposed to. Climate change and over-industrialization are on our radar. Kids, on the other hand, need to experience first-hand how these things affect us. And why they exist in the first place.

By teaching kids about sustainability now, you can prepare them for the future. You set them up to be conscientious and eco-minded individuals later on down the line. When it really counts. When they grow up, they’ll make a positive difference in the world.

So, how can we accomplish this in a way that kids respond to?

Kids Learn Through Play

Playing is one of the first forms of communication and expression that kids learn.

From the day they are born, we initiate games like “peek-a-boo” and “copy-cat” to teach vital developmental skills and practice bonding.

Both of these things are fundamental to the emotional, mental, and physical development of children. Through play, we contribute to their overall health and wellbeing.

So, what are some of the ways in which play can benefit children’s development? Here are four key aspects of why learning through play is so important:

  • Encourages imagination and creativity
  • Helps kids make sense of the world around them
  • Develops their cognitive abilities
  • Teaches sharing and empathy

Using play as a method for educational development is a great way to enhance kids’ understanding of sustainability and environmental awareness.

Young kids especially struggle to grasp concepts that are not introduced to them in a playful context.

Even tweens and teenagers are more likely to understand the importance of sustainability when it’s presented in a way that is fun and engaging.

Using the character Ecoman, this video by Sustainability Illustrated shows the importance of sustainability:

The video is designed so that kids can easily comprehend and respond to the content. Clear, concise, yet fun, this type of educational tool is hugely beneficial.

Incorporate Sustainable Activities into Your Child’s Routine

So we have now established that play is the key to unlocking understanding for kids.

But what are some actionable ways for parents to integrate the core values of sustainability into a child’s daily routine?

Here are six ideas to get you going:

  1. Pick Up Litter

Turning trash-collecting into a game is one simple and easy way to get your kids involved in sustainable activities.

The unfortunately ever-present nature of litter means the opportunity for playing this game sits (literally) on every corner.

Teaching kids about sustainability - two kids in a park picking up litter with a grabby stick

Consider getting each of your kids a litter-collection bag that they receive a reward for when full. Picking up litter is an important practice for everyone on the planet.

Turning it into a game will help kids from the habit at a young age. It will encourage them to be eco-conscious adults who really see the world around them. And who want to clean it up to make it better.

  1. Sort the Recycling

In 2021, recycling should be standard practice for every home that can afford it.

Sorting the recycling may already be a chore for your kids. But turning it into a fun activity will mean they’re more likely to keep up the habit as adults.

Teaching kids about sustainability - sorting recycling into glass, paper, and plastic

Having multiple cans for different recycling categories can help “gamify” recycling. Additionally, it can solidify kids’ understanding of the various recycling types. If you can make recycling a habit, they’re likely to keep doing so.

  1. Start a Compost System

This one is only applicable if your family already has access to a garden. But when implemented it makes a great sustainability exercise!

Getting hands involved in the soil and organic waste will help kids develop an understanding of biology and give them a natural dose of vitamin D at the same time.

Not only will they learn about gardening and growing, but they’ll also discover just how much waste has the potential for repurposing. They’ll start to see everything from eggshells to tea bags as potentially useful in their used form.

  1. Plant a Garden 

Giving kids the responsibility of tending a small garden can teach them important accountability skills. Plus, it can ignite a healthy curiosity about permaculture.

Teaching kids about sustainability -four young kids in a veggie garden

Growing produce at home is a life skill that kids can benefit from for the rest of their lives. Plus, it teaches healthy eating habits. This is especially important in a world where sugar-laden foods are a huge part of many people’s diets. These foods can have detrimental effects on health. Learning to eat healthily is therefore important from a young age too.

In addition to being a life skill and promoting healthy eating habits, growing vegetables is a highly tactile and immersive activity. It’s enjoyable either as a solo pursuit or as a family effort.

  1. Repurpose Old Toys or Furniture

 Repurposing and upcycling are also important facets of sustainability. Everyone has something that could be made anew, and the process is highly rewarding.

Starting kids young with the concept of transforming old, unused items into something new and exciting will encourage them to see life through a lens of possibility.

Getting kids to find old toys or furniture and offer to help them execute a DIY project is a fun way to teach the concept of sustainability.

  1. Make Eco-Friendly Home Cleaning Products

There are so many simple and affordable ways to make your own eco-friendly cleaning products. And your kids will enjoy making them with you.

All you need are some repurposed glass bottles (with lids), natural essential oils, and some basic store-cupboard goods. With these, you can create effective biodegradable cleaning products.

Check out this video by Clem Around The Corner for some easy recipes to try:

Kids will love the process of making natural cleaning alternatives. As an added benefit you’ll receive a batch of earth-friendly products that keep for months!

Outdoor Play: The Secret to Teaching Kids About Sustainability

When it comes to teaching kids about sustainability, there is one method that outranks all others: outdoor play.

Outdoor play combines interaction with the earth and the power of playfulness to teach kids an appreciation for nature.

By encouraging kids to have positive, tactile experiences with the outdoors, they will come to respect it. Potentially far more than via any other educational method.

Teaching kids about sustainability - image of young boy climbing a tree and hugging the branch

If you want to teach your kids to love and respect the world they live in, outdoor play is the way to go. Here are four reasons to get your kids outside:

  • Encourages exploration and curiosity
  • Develops fine motor skills
  • Fosters an appreciation for the environment
  • Generates self-awareness

If you want to teach your kids how to have a healthy appreciation and investment in the environment, playing outside is the best way to get there.

Final Thoughts: Lead By Example and Let Them Follow in Your Footsteps

When it comes to teaching kids about sustainability, no matter what strategies of education you choose, your kids will take direction by example.

The best way to ensure that your kids grow up with appreciation and awareness around sustainability is to lead an environmentally aware lifestyle yourself.

Kids use the actions and words of those around them to model their own behavior. If you want to see a change in the way your kids perceive sustainability, start with yourself.

References and Useful Resources

Miracle Recreation: 6 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Kids

Rubicon: Why Environmental Education is Important for Kids

Family Lives: Why Play Matters

Kiddipedia: Children Learn by Example

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can my kids interact with nature if I don’t have a garden?

If you don’t have a garden on your property, you can find public outdoor spaces that provide the same opportunity for interacting with nature. Trips to the park, forest, or beach are all excellent places to cultivate an appreciation for the environment. Check out the full guide for more info on this!

How can I get older kids interested in sustainability?

Older kids might be better suited to sustainable activities that do not resemble games. Things like upcycling, gardening and academic projects may help foster interest in the environment. Check out the full guide for more ideas.

My area doesn’t offer recycling services. What can I do to help?

If you don’t have the option to recycle, you can collect your materials and deliver them to the nearest recycling centre. If that is not possible, focus on other eco-friendly activities such as picking up litter or petitioning for green policies.

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