What is sustainability, anyway? Sometimes you see the word on someone’s Instagram story, or maybe you hear someone discussing it as they place their reusable bags on the Sobeys’ counter, or maybe you’ve even seen it on a cardboard sign at a protest.
Sustainability is our lifeline - put simply. It means we are putting forth the effort to keep our world and future generations safe. With our current lifestyle, the world is in danger. We cannot produce enough food or resources to keep up with our day-to-day needs with such a large population.
So why should we be teaching this to kids? And how? Well, kids are sponges. You may have heard that term a time or two but take it from an elementary teacher, they pick up on things so much easier than their older, back-pain-ridden counterparts. By understanding their impact on the world and incorporating small routines and ideas at a young age, they will have the ability to sustain our world and change things around. They could truly save the world!
So how do we teach kids about sustainability? For me, the only thing I remember learning about in terms of sustainability was, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. That’s it. I never learned anything about the harmful effects of plastic, chemicals, overconsumption of meat… nothing to that effect. So you might say, “Well, you seem to be keen on sustainability and you didn’t learn it, so why do our kids have to?” Because I have always been in love with nature.
The easiest way to get children to have a basic understanding of why it is important to save the Earth is to get them to love nature. And I don’t mean just send them outside to ride their bike around the neighbourhood - that’s not enough. Take away the concrete. Take them on hikes, to the beach, camping, kayaking, snowshoeing, skiing… anything that gets them to appreciate the blue and green of the Earth. Incorporate nature into your house, as well. Get them to learn about growing their own food or starting seeds, buy some houseplants, bring in beautiful sticks and stones they find outside.
By incorporating nature into their lifestyles, you take away the disconnect from the Earth. It’s easier to lose sight of the importance of nature and sustainability when we’re living in a concrete jungle. Our food arrives from different countries and lands in the aisles of the grocery store, the plastic and waste we accumulate goes in our trash bags and disappears to some unknown location and the coffee we’re enjoying didn’t just come from a cleared rainforest in our community. One of the easiest ways for children to connect with sustainability is through nature.
Depending on their age, it can sometimes be too difficult for them to grasp the deeper ideas of sustainability such as inequality or poverty. Though some of the most important concepts, childrens’ brains can’t always process these abstract concepts. However, by broaching some easier concepts beforehand, you are incorporating sustainability in your household. In years to come, these tougher topics can be addressed and won’t be a shock to your already sustainably-aware child.
Tips for teaching sustainability:
- Get outside
As mentioned, it is absolutely essential for your children to feel that connection to the world and nature. If you don’t have any hiking trails nearby, go to a public garden. Somewhere that provides more greenery than just a lawn. Go on a bus trip or a road trip! Anywhere that gets them out of the house
- Get growing!
Plan for an outdoor or hydroponics garden to encourage a connection to greenery all year round. Kids love the idea of raising something (hello, dolls!) and this can be something that is all their own. It takes such minimal effort and care and it instills a sense of control, a connection with nature and a brief understanding of plants, nutrition and agriculture (seriously, all from a few seeds!).
- Buy some greenery for inside your house
Similar to the hydroponics garden, it’s great for children to be exposed to house plants. The fact that a plant needs light, water and care to survive is a huge, impactful topic for younger children. The fact that it won’t survive on its own can open discussions such as caring for others, the importance of water and responsibility.
- Tracking your waste
Make it a family goal to use less plastic - you can even make it into a game! Try and reduce the amount of waste you use each week and opt for things at the grocery stores that don’t use wrappers. This opens conversations to processed food (what are some reasons to make our own granola bars instead of buying them?), waste-free foods (how many of them are healthier?) and the impact of waste on the Earth. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could even take a trip to your local dump to explain where waste goes!
- Kindness over everything