Being an environmental scientist, it has been very important to me to ensure that my daughter has an appreciation for the amazing natural world around her and the fragility of it. It has actually been quite simple and she has needed little encouragement so far to embrace my sustainability values. Here are my top tips to ensure sustainability values are passed on to the next generation:
Getting out and about
Children don’t need any encouragement to explore the world around them – it comes naturally. You may even notice they are more observant than you – they look up and notice the moon in the sky during the day or a butterfly flying past. On walks through the neighbourhood it is natural to want to stop and pick every flower and watch every ant. As frustrating as this can be, I try to curb my impatience and see how amazing the world is as if I am seeing it for the first time with my little one.
Even if you live in a city there is a wealth of natural places available to take children to explore. Inner city parks with their amazing old trees and ducks in a pond are perfect for little ones.
Reading and educational activities
We love to read at our house, and books about nature are a must. I still haven’t delved deeply enough into the right books available to communicate a sustainable message, but I do love the Life for Beginners DVD and flashcard sets, available in 2 sets – “In the Garden” and “By the Pond“. They are a great way to interpret things you have seen in nature and learn more about them.
My Little Bookcase also does a great job of recommending books for certain topics, and has done a lovely review of books about the Australian environment here.
I also like to draw or write about things we have done when we get home to help create those memories. The internet is a great resource to look up photos or videos of certain things you have seen.
Know where food comes from
I am a big believer in children knowing where food comes from (not the supermarket!). We live on a small block of land but I am still making an effort to grow some herbs and vegies, and have learnt a lot about how to cope with limited space.
If you can’t grow food at home, farmers markets are a great outing for kids and a place to get the freshest food you can. We visit a farmers market once a fortnight where we chose our own food and when we get home my daughter is fully involved in the cooking process. We make most of our meals from scratch, which actually does not take any more time and effort, and it is a great teaching activity at the same time.
Use all resources sustainably
Water availability has been one of our biggest challenges throughout most of Australia in recent years and research has shown that even now we have moved back to a more average rainfall pattern, those water conservation messages live on. I think it is important to teach children about the sustainable use of all resources – this is a lesson to be learned at home as well as at school. In our house we only water our plants when they need watering and, when it is dry in summer, we collect water in the shower in a bucket to water our plants. If you have a rainwater tank that is even better! Children should also be involved in everyday activities such as turning the tap off when you brush your teeth to help them learn about the preciousness of our resources.
Lets face it, we live in such a wasteful society. I think an important lesson to teach our children is what happens to our waste and why we should separate recyclables. We compost at our home which is such a fun activity for children. A great activity is to dig out a bucket of compost and let them hunt for bugs to their heart’s content. Be sure to explain that we are reducing the amount of waste we send to landfill and re-using it to grow your own food. It’s an important cycle. Even small units can have a worm farm – what child doesn’t love worms?
I also love to re-use things and repair them rather than replacing them. One idea we used recently was to reuse an old washing basket to make a garden!
Another important message is about respecting not only our environment but the places we live. We can do this by not littering and making sure we don’t put anything down storm water drains. It all ends up in our waterways and at our beaches which we want to make sure we can continue to enjoy safely.
Participate in community environmental activities
If you don’t have a garden, why not join a community garden? It’s a great way to learn from other, more experienced, gardeners. My daughter and I also love to participate in our local Clean Up Australia Day and National Tree Day events. They are a great family activities and help children feel connected to the community around them.