Raising a Green Kid

We hear it all the time. Kids today spend too much time indoors watching TV and playing video and computer games. Each day they grow plumper and less daunted by the images of sex and violence that inundate them. Among older teens and young adults, apathy is up while empathy is on the decline.

By encouraging kids to go out and enjoy nature and be vested in its conservation, we’re not only getting them some much needed exercise but teaching them valuable lessons in empathy, respect, and good citizenship.

The best way to raise a green kid is by being a good example yourself. Point out to them what actions you take to be green. Let your kids know why you are turning down the thermostat, using reusable shopping bags, recycling, composting, and so on. They may not give such actions much thought. Let them know why it's so important.

Make being green a family initiative. Kids can help sort recycling and rip up old clothes and linens for cleaning rags. Have them sort through clothes and toys they've outgrown and then accompany you to donate them to a charity. Teach your kids to shut off lights and toys when not in use and to turn off the water when they brush their teeth. Explain why these are such important habits to keep and give them plenty of kudos when they act green all on their own.

Grow a garden together. Let kids see where real food comes from. You might even get them to eat an extra veggie or two if you grow them together. Growing any type of garden or even a simple plant can be a very rewarding experience. Plus, what kid doesn’t like to play in the dirt? You can also build a bird feeder out of a used milk carton or plant milkweed to attract butterflies. Check out the National Wildlife Federation's web site to learn how you can have your yard certified as a wildlife habitat.

Beyond growing veggies together, you can involve kids in everyday meal planning. See what locally-grown, seasonal produce is available at the grocery store, let your kid(s) pick something new to try, and cook up a culinary adventure together. Visit farmers markets together and explain why local and organic foods are healthier and more eco-friendly. And don’t forget to pack their lunch in reusable containers.

Before throwing anything away think of how you might be able to use it in an arts and crafts project. If you're not particularly crafty, there are plenty of books at the library full of ideas. Put together an “invention box” with paper holders, bottle caps, leftover bits of ribbon and yarn, left over art supplies, etc. and see what your child's imagination comes up with.

Go beyond home and get the whole family involved in “green” community activities. If there are none available in your area, go out an organize them. Get a group of family and friends together to clean up a local park or work with your PTA to get local, organic produce in the lunchroom, green cleaning products in the broom closet, and a nature discovery center in the school yard.

Finally, don’t forget to show kids what it is we’re working so hard to preserve. Visit state and national parks in your area. Many offer great family friendly activities. Or simply get outside in your own yard or a local park. Bring along binoculars, a magnifying class, and a journal (young children can draw pictures of what they see) to make it a true nature expedition. Teach your kids how to observe, enjoy and appreciate nature without disturbing it.

This is actually a quote from a Go RVing ad, but I find it incredibly apropos.

"Along with milk and vegetables, kids need a steady diet of rocks and worms. Rocks need skipping. Holes need digging. Water needs splashing. Bugs and frogs and slimy stuff need finding."

You might get something out of a little dirt digging and bug finding yourself. At the very least you can build some lasting memories doing incredibly positive things with your children.

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