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Teaching Sustainability to a Younger Generation

Teaching Sustainability to a Younger Generation

Living a sustainable life really comes down to how we utilize resources, and making sure we use them responsibly so that children and future generations are able to enjoy a healthy planet. By leading through example and explanation, parents can empower their children to take an active role in living a sustainable lifestyle.

Children Observe and Learn From Their Parents

While at a young age children can become familiar with certain low-level concepts, until they are older they are mostly unaware of how resources and products are used, and whether or not they are reusable, renewable and recyclable. However, by simply observing and imitating their parents living in sustainable ways, children can become accustomed to the idea of sustainability within their homes and, in turn, grow to understand the importance of sustainability when they are old enough to actively participate themselves.
For example, most products we buy come prepared in some type of packaging, made up of a variety of materials. While it can seem largely unavoidable, there are ways to mitigate the use of plastic and other materials used to package and transport foods and other goods. When you shop, be sure to bring your own reusable bags to the store with you. Not only will this reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use, it will also demonstrate to your child early on that it’s not necessary to use plastic grocery bags.  Additionally, letting children choose the reusable bags or choosing them in your child’s favorite colors will help ingrain in them the practice of refusing single-use plastic bags and will create positive thoughts around sustainability while they are still young.
Furthermore, even something as simple as always having a reusable water bottle handy can leave an impression on children. When your child sees you refill your water bottle at home, or runs over to take a sip from their reusable water bottle on a day out at the park, they’ll grow up without even thinking of using single-use water bottles. Again, when your child sees this from a young age, they will have learned from your own practices and visual cues when it’s time for them to make their own purchases.

Parents Should Discuss Sustainability With Their Children

Besides actions, practices and habits that children pick up simply by observing their parents, there are also aspects to sustainable living that children can be taught and have explained to them.
For example, when on a road trip, explain to your children the purpose of the windmills you’re passing and how they generate electricity. Discuss with your children why a reusable water bottle is better than a single-use plastic one. If your child frequently leaves the lights on in rooms when they leave, explain to them why it is important to turn lights and electronics off when they are not in use. It is also a good idea to explain to them other things around the house such as why you shouldn’t water the lawn everyday, or why they shouldn’t let water faucets run or leak.
However, when teaching children about sustainable living, be sure to avoid a rhetoric of doom and gloom .  When teaching children about environmental sustainability it is possible to overwhelm them. To avoid this, try sharing success stories of environmental sustainability. Whatever the success might be, discussing them with your children when introducing them to a sustainable lifestyle can help them envision a better future that is, in part, the result of their own lifestyle.
When discussing sustainability, it is also important for parents to break down the ideas and terms being used. Be sure to take the time to explain the origins and meanings of terms such as “sustainability.” This will help act as a teaching moment and can empower children to become more aware and critical of environmental problems.
Whatever tips for young children you decide to implement in your home and use to introduce your children to sustainable living, remember that your actions in combination with your explanations will have the greatest impact. Children look up to their parents, and before you know it they will be grown and making their own decisions. So do your part for the next generation and choose sustainable living for yourself and for your children.
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