Q: I would like to think that I’m an eco-friendly parent — we buy organic fruits and veggies, I try to recycle and I even conserve water in the bathroom. But I wonder if my kids will end up doing the same when they get older. I want them to grow up to want to take care of the world around them and not take it for granted. Are there things I can do as a parent to raise my kids’ eco-awareness?

A: Well, my friend, you are well on your way there already. See, kids learn by example. And if you’re setting a good one, chances are they’re already getting the message. Not only that, but setting a positive example is a lot more effective than just telling them what to do. Every time you turn off the water when you brush your teeth, or throw that soda can in the recycling bin, you are teaching them to love and cherish the Earth.

Conversely, if they see you throw that same soda can out your car window, you’re sending a pretty loud message as well. And while you’re doing what’s right for the Earth, explain why you’re doing what you’re doing to your children. Before you leave for school in the morning and make sure the lights in the house are off, explain to your kids that you are saving valuable energy. Before long, you might overhear your child explaining the same thing to one of his friends.

Setting a positive example works for other things too, by the way. If you want your kids to say please and thank you, then you need to do the same. I’m not saying it’s easy, but since kids are always watching (and I mean always — my 19-month-old won’t let me go to the bathroom by myself), there’s always an opportunity to model good behavior.

Another great way to raise your kids’ eco-awareness is to get them involved in the process of saving the planet. Talk to them about the little things in their daily life and how what they do impacts the Earth. Then, work together to figure out ways to lessen their impact. For example, have them pick out their own reusable lunch bag or water bottle for school, or ask them to take out the recycling as part of their daily chores. There are also lots of great resources online to get kids involved. One example is Luann Foty’s National Crayon Recycle Program website. Your kids can save up all their old crayons to send to this program for recycling, and even buy recycled crayons in return. Kids love responsibility and by giving them some, they’ll start to take ownership over their actions.

Finally, the best way to raise your child’s eco-awareness, in my opinion, is to foster their love for the great outdoors. Go camping, go hiking, or just take a nature walk in your own backyard. Sit outside and watch the sunset or wait till dark and count the stars. I still remember running barefoot in my front yard catching fireflies at dusk on a summer evening. Or the first time my father showed me what a honeysuckle bush was and how to get the nectar out. It’s amazing to see a young child’s wonder at something as small as an industrious ant, or the intricate veins on a leaf. It’s this very wonder that will help them begin to appreciate the beauty of the world around them and will in turn instill a lifelong desire to keep it that way. Good luck, Earth Mama.

— Chanie

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Kids walking down path: courosa/Flickr

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