Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where your kids learn valuable lessons like how to take care of our planet. Environmental education teaches children critical thinking skills, like how to investigate and draw conclusions. And it helps them to grow up to become caring and contributing citizens. You don’t need to look any farther than your own backyard for the tools to teach kids about the environment.
Planting a tree is a great family activity from start to finish. Load up the kids and head to the nursery to pick out a sapling. Trees are crucial to our lives for the oxygen they produce. They protect the environment by reducing the amount of stormwater runoff, which controls soil erosion and pollution in our waterways. Trees also enhance the lives of birds and small animals by providing a place to live and protection from the elements. Your children will be proud to have a hand in something that will live on for years.
If you don’t already have a garden, you can still get down and dirty with a small plot of land. Kids are delighted to watch a seed they put in the ground grow into a veggie, fruit, or flower. They learn how plants clean the air and soil and how, in fact, greenery is responsible for the very air we breathe. Plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release the oxygen we need to survive.
This is also a great time to get kids interested in eating more veggies. Plant a variety of colorful vegetables such as carrots, red peppers, and swiss chard to spark their interest. Of course, they’re good for us, providing vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but they’re also easier on the environment than animal-based foods. This is because of the high amount of energy required to farm livestock and their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.
Waste not, want not, so save food scraps like fruits and vegetables and teach children how to use them as compost. As the bits of food decompose, the scraps turn into nutrient-dense matter. Use it in your backyard garden, on top of the soil, and to fertilize the crops your kids planted. Conservation lessons that come from composting include helping the soil hold moisture and reducing water runoff, keeping organic waste out of landfills, and reducing the need for commercial fertilizers.
Even though 71% of the Earth is covered by water, only 3% is fresh and drinkable. Teach your kids that even the tiniest actions help conserve water. Have them check faucets both inside and outside your home to make sure they’re not dripping. Don’t use the toilet to flush trash or other items. Routinely check the water meter for leaks. Include drought-resistant plants and shrubs in your landscaping.
Show children how to set a timer on sprinklers or set up a drip irrigation system. This method puts the water exactly where it’s needed, with little to no waste. Using less water means less energy is needed to deliver it to our homes and businesses. That, in turn, saves fuel and reduces pollution, helping protect the environment.
Take part in these activities with your kids and just spend some time outside, sitting and observing. Take a book with you and read about climate change and other important issues facing our environment. Let your children know that no action is too small and what they do today can help protect our environment for the future.
Carmen Dexter is a freelance journalist and teacher who enjoys growing her own organic food with her grandchildren and recycling as much as possible.