How to Talk to Your Kids About the Environment

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An oft-repeated reason for concern about the environment is the importance of preserving the earth for future generations. But how do we teach our children the meaning and importance of eco-awareness?

It sounds like an overwhelming task, but you don’t have to define the ozone layer to instill in your kids a sense of connection with the earth. Get the conversation flowing with these ideas for teaching your children to care about the environment:

Connect with nature.

Children already love to play in the dirt, so why not incorporate some learning into this activity? Plant a tree and watch it grow, or buy some seeds of your children’s favorite vegetable and let them start their own garden. Teach them how the soil and sun help plants grow, and give them chances to feel, see and smell during the process. For best results, pick easy to grow veggies such as tomatoes, carrots, green beans and cucumbers.

Teach with toys.

Explain the difference between their toys made of plastic, cotton and wood and where each material comes from. Have them feel the difference between the textures, and talk about why certain materials are better for the environment than others. You can also use toys to teach about energy. Check out this build-it-yourself solar car kit or this renewable energy science kit that teaches about wind power.

Reuse. Reduce. Recycle.

Recycling is a daily activity all kids can take part in. Let them help separate cans, bottles and paper, and talk about what these items can be recycled into. Discuss ideas for reducing the amount of trash your family creates and how you can reuse items for arts and crafts. Want to take it a step further? Set up a worm composting system and watch as the worms naturally recycle food waste.

Monitor their news.

Coverage of natural disasters can be scary for children, so be sure to listen to and understand your children’s fears. That said, instances of floods, hurricanes and tornadoes can provide a chance to talk about why certain weather events happen and how they affect the environment. These events can be tied to discussions of climate change as well, so depending on your kid’s age, it may be an opportunity to ask about his or her feelings and ideas concerning the topic.

Use water wisely.

Teach kids where tap water comes from and that it isn’t an unlimited resource. Brushing teeth, watering plants and washing pets are all opportunities to instill the importance of water conservation, and to ask your children about their ideas for lessening water use.

Get online!

For online learning, try websites geared toward kids, where they can play games and learn about topics such as the ecosystem, pollution and saving energy. For ages 6 to 9, the PBS site EekoWorld helps kids understand their role in the environment and lets them create their own “EekoCreature.” The U.S. Department of Energy’s site Energy Kids helps explain difficult energy concepts. The Canadian website EcoKids offers great homework help on a number of environmental topics.

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