How To Teach Kids To Be Green

by Owner on April 24, 2009

I’m fortunate enough to have two kids in my life, aged 7 and 4. At some point it struck me that the sooner that children learn about the importance of going green, the better. So I set out to begin explaining the essentials of going green in terms they could understand.

What would they relate to? What would motivate them to change behaviors at their young age?

This is a loving work in progress for me, but here are three ideas I’ve come up with so far.

1) Explain going green in simple, concrete terms they can understand. One day I noticed the four year old was washing his hands and kind of just standing there, letting water waste down the drain. I closed the faucet and explained to him that it’s important not to waste water. “But why,” he asked in his usual inquisitive way. I replied that he knows that fishes need water to breathe, and that this water comes from lakes and rivers where fishes live. If we waste water we don’t need, I said, then fishes will die from not having water. Lest he conclude that it was best not to wash your hands (or shower) at all to save the fishes, I quickly added that it’s OK to use a little water, just enough for our needs, as long as we don’t waste it. He got the point, and has become more careful with his water use.

2) Tell a compelling story. One day I tried to explain global warming to the seven year old. Once upon a time, I said, there were lots of dinosaurs and plants. (All kids love dinosaurs!) One day a meteor crashed into the Earth and they all died. The Earth eventually covered their bodies, and they got turned into petroleum and coal, which we now use for gasoline and energy. She really got a kick from the fact that the gasoline we put in our cars came from dinosaurs! I then explained that when we run our cars or turn on the lights, an invisible gas from the gasoline and coal goes into the air that is causing the planet to heat up. That’s bad for animals like polar bears, who like it really cold and icy. That’s why it’s important, I said, to use as little gasoline and energy as possible. I THINK she got it…but I’ll probably need to reinforce the lesson soon.

3) Allow them to believe that their actions directly lead to good results. One of the most disappointing things we discover when we grow up is that we are not the center of the universe, and that it’s very difficult for any one person to save the world. It’s hard to explain the power behind groups of people changing their behavior and going green. One little boy shutting the faucet by himself probably isn’t going to save many fish, but many little kids doing the same all over the world will save lots of fish. In my opinion it’s hard to explain group behavior to a child, or motivate the child to do something on that basis. Let the kid believe for the time being that his shutting off the faucet or turning off the light will DIRECTLY lead to a fish not dying or a polar bear not suffering. That belief in a direct connection between behavior and results will motivate children to go green. As they get older they’ll come to better understand their place in the world and the power of group behavior, and hopefully by that time the going green message will have sunk in enough that they will continue to care for the environment.

Do you have other ways of getting kids to go green? I’d love to hear them, so post them here!

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