One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is “How can I raise my kids to be green?’ This is a good question but I think it is more important to think beyond the concept of “going green”. More is required. They need to think about the world “community” and how it is impacted by the decisions we make. There is a popular saying that “kids won’t protect what they do not love”. We need to raise kids that have a nurturing character and a compassionate heart.
It all starts with teaching them to love and care about themselves, the world around them, and the other people that reside upon it. What we need are kids who can be leaders, heroes, and pioneers. Kids who will realize the importance of community and that it extends beyond themselves to all the people around them and all the organisms around them. So how do we teach kids to care about themselves, the planet, and each other?
Well, if I knew the exact formula I would be on Dr. Phil right now. ;) I have a few ideas though and I would LOVE to hear some of your in the comments. I might “think” I am doing a good job now but my kids are still very young. There is nothing like a community banding together to discuss the needs of the community and we are a community of compassionate mamas here right? :)
Teaching our children to understand what it can be like to live in someone else’s shoes is an excellent way to introduce children to the whole notion of caring for others and the world around them.
Whether it’s a stray kitten abandoned by its mother, an old man begging for change on the street, or a Habitat for Humanity family that doesn’t have a home… how we observe the situation and share our thoughts with our children will go a long way in teaching them to be compassionate human beings. Don’t just expect them to develop compassion and empathy, model it for them daily.
People who don’t care about other people or the environment have a negative impact in our communities that can be seen. Whether it’s garbage on the ground or the shrieks of children who’ve been bullied in the schoolyard, the impact of uncaring and insensitive people is around us. It’s a behavior that we don’t want to see in our children and that we can counter by teaching our children to be people “who care.”
As parents, we want our children to appreciate the good things in their lives and to be cognizant of their role in this world as a contributing human being. This is one reason I really like the ideas I spoke of in my green birthdays post:
I read about a woman that orchestrated a puppy-themed party for her child to benefit a local animal shelter. She made dog-bone shaped oatmeal cookies for snacks and In lieu of birthday gifts, guests brought donations, dog food, leashes, water bowls and toys for the abandoned animals. All the kids and especially the birthday boy LOVED it and the animal shelter brought puppies for the kids to play with. I also read about an Africa-themed party, where kids built a grass hut and collected donations for African children. These parties were fun and they taught the guests a valuable lesson about helping others.”
I love these ideas because they demonstrate how we can use our blessings in life to make a difference in the lives of others and they make it fun, which we all know is important. Opportunities like these teach our children that getting is great but giving is even better. It gives them an opportunity to be empathetic and caring and to make a difference. When they start getting a regular taste of that, they will be hooked.
Visit your local Humane Society and ask if there are volunteer opportunities for your child/children. Your child might be able to be registered as a dog walker for the society. Humane societies are often in need of old newspapers, paper shredder scraps and towels for pet care. Suggest your child collect this material for donation to your local Humane Society.
Giving service to others is a wonderful way to teach children about compassion and action. There are many ways to get children involved that are sensitive to the needs of those receiving support and to the safety and well being of your young volunteers!
Select a family shelter or children’s services center in your region and find out if they would be willing to accept children’s snack packages put together by your child and their friends or siblings. You and your kids can purchase healthy snacks like granola bars, dried fruit and crackers. Package these items into small lunch bags that are decorated in any way your children choose.
Encourage your kids to decorate these snack bags in a way that would appeal to them since many of the children who may receive these bags will be the same ages as your kids. If they can , allow your kids to spend some time there and get to know the children and why they are there.
Volunteer as a family at soup kitchens, community clean ups, and other charitable events. Caring children learn to be that way when they are shown compassion and care in the home and when a parent takes the time to teach them their role as stewards of our world.
And how exactly does one encourage compassion for the planet. Well there are numerous ways:
Introduce your children to the concept of what we do with garbage and where it goes when it leaves the curb so that they might think twice about how they discard items, especially recyclable ones. Kids should be informed that our garbage can hurt us. Our habits can be harmful to our one home.
This week my 4 year old daughter had questions about this after seeing the cover art on the 11th Hour DVD case. I remember her concerned face when she asked about why there was big foot stepping on our earth and crushing it.
Another “garbage” related learning opportunity is created through composting. Create a compost pile in your yard or kitchen and involve the kids in the task of ensuring that organic waste like food scraps are placed in the compost. Observe over the weeks as the compost becomes rich soil conditioner for the garden. This process is good for them to see and provides a basis of understanding when you teach them about non-recyclable items that don’t “return to the earth”.
Teach your kids about the products that pollute our environment like our cars and get into the habit of walking, using mass transit, or riding a bike to destinations, whenever possible. Energy conservation is also a lesson they can learn about. My 4 year old already makes sure to turn off all electrical appliances to “save the power”.
When you are outside with your children take the time to highlight the beauty of the natural world around them. Encourage the kids to sniff the unique scents of spring, summer, and fall. Create a whimsical children’s garden for their enjoyment. Above all let them get out and get dirty and ENJOY nature. Help them build a fort, a sunflower house, or even a teepee so they can create an outdoor haven just for them. Read The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls with them and show them how fun outdoor play can be. If you don’t live in area where they can get outdoors and enjoy themselves make sure to plan regular trips to parks, lakes, nature conservatories, and wildlife preserves. They need to love it or they won’t have it in their heart to protect it.
With these tips, your children will learn to not only embrace nature but will grow into adults that will respect the environment because they know, understand and appreciate what is at stake. They will recognize their responsibility to be conscious inhabitants of earth who respect the grandeur and balance of nature.
In closing I thought I would share a couple things we did in my family this week.
First we did a homeschool project where we created a tree community. I wrote out instructions for it here. But here is the basic idea:
* Draw or trace a big tree (without leaves) on the paper, poster board, or a white board.
* Tell children that a tree is a community just like the one we live in. It has life and activity. Ask them what kinds of things they might see in a tree, such as nuts, flowers, sap, fruit, seeds, birds, squirrels, insects, spider webs, a bee hive, a nest, and leaves. Write them out on the board.
* Invite children to paint or color it, adding all of the elements they have decided belong to the tree “community”.
* Discuss what would happen if the tree were cut down or otherwise harmed and how the tree’s community would fare. Also discuss how “we” would be affected.
I like this project because they can see how our everything is intertwined and the actions of one can affect everyone. It also shows them our eco system is a living thing, just like a community of people and it can suffer and be harmed…just like people can.
To make it easier to discuss the earth as a whole and all of the other people and places it is helpful to have a globe on hand. My kids love to use ours. We also have an awesome toy designed to help kids appreciate the planet and “hug” it from Peace Toys. It is a huggable earth pillow and it has won several awards. Just place on the family couch or on the bed for easy hands on reference. We love it here, me included. We usually cuddle up on the couch with it and read.
Second, we “planted” a tree in our playroom/homeschool room. Actually we got a cutout tree at a homeschool supply store but we are really enjoying it. I put up the tree and I put hook and loop sticky tabs on it to attach the leaves. On the leaves we wrote things we can do to be kind to our planet…aka plant a tree, reusable bags, turn off the lights, donate to an eco charity, etc. We can either leave them up there as a reminder or take them all down every month and then put them up one at a time as we put them into action. That way we can measure how we are doing. You could also extend this to include some activities designed to show love for the community and other people as well.
Some pictures are below.
So as you can see, I think going green is just one part of a larger issue. We need kids with character and integrity that care about the whole world around them…human and non human. We need some heroes and pioneers because the children really are our future. I have met some amazing moms via the Internet community (and this blog) and I am really encouraged that many moms are seeing the importance of this and are raising kids who care.
Before I go I encourage you leave me a comment and share your ideas and tips. We can all learn from each other.
Also you might want to check out the following awesome book: Teaching Kids to Care
Monday, April 14th, 2008