"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." - The Lorax
Many parents first heard the environmental message of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax when the book came out in 1971. Encouraging these same "green" ideas for our children today is easier than one might think.
Before kids can learn to take care of the world around them, they have to learn to love it. That's why environmental education experts encourage families to get outside and play in nature in order to build an appreciation for the environment.
"Children understand naturally that they ARE nature. They are intrinsically connected," says Jim Poyser, Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, which seeks to inspire and advance sustainable, just and peaceful living in Indiana. "The most important thing a family can do is be outside. Period. Parents must support this intrinsic love for nature kids have – they'll grow up to be good stewards as a result."
Children are hands-on learners, so making a game out of environmental lessons helps these messages sink in. Kids can aid with recycling by smashing cardboard boxes, and sort cans and bottles by color, size or recycling numbers. With a parent's help, they can shred junk mail and repurpose it into paper mache art. Working together with your children provides an opportunity for you to talk about how our actions impact the environment, in good and bad ways.
"Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air." - The Lorax
"Being green should be the natural mode of our existence," Poyser says. "We have too long been disconnected from the ecological footprint, and we are now paying the price with pollution and climate change. There is no bad time to start participating in the healing of our relationship to nature."
Foster your child's love of nature by giving them a portion of the back yard and allowing them the freedom and responsibility to manage the space. They can plant flowers or vegetables, build a fort or simply let their imaginations run wild. You may be amazed at what your child will do with a little green space of their own.
Try some of these fun activities to get kids out and enjoying nature:
Plant a butterfly garden and watch the insects flock to your yard.
Make a bird feeder out of used plastic containers.
When possible, walk or ride a bike instead of driving.
Make compost out of table scraps and have fun preparing an "earthworm picnic."
Install a rain barrel and use it to water the garden.
Volunteer to help clean a park or river.
"A person's a person, no matter how small." - Horton Hears a Who
Children – and parents too, for that matter – may feel that their efforts are too small to make a difference against a challenge as big as saving the environment. But there are many things families can do that really add up to significant change. "There are so many resources out there to go green, pick one area, then go for it," Poyser says. "You'll save money, become healthier and happier and that will inspire you to tackle another activity."
Here's a few simple ideas your family can start with:
Turn water off while brushing teeth.
Switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Change incandescent bulbs to LED light bulbs.
Use reusable food containers to pack lunch.
Use reusable bags at the grocery.
Turn off lights, computers and electronic devices when not in use (and play outside instead!)
Write an "Earth Day Pledge" with your children, promising to follow through on whatever actions you decide to take as a family.
"It's not about what it is; it's about what it can become." - The Lorax
How can you relay to small children the big picture of how their actions today can change the world around them? By choosing to model the positive behaviors that you would like to see them embrace.
"I believe parents will know exactly what to say to their kids depending upon their family culture," says Poyser. "Whether it's 'We're saving the planet" to 'We're saving money" to 'We're protecting God's creation.'" Find the inspiration that speaks to your family and begin incorporating a few green practices in your home today.
You can celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22) by contributing to reforestation efforts in Indiana. The Indiana Tree Project is a statewide initiative managed by the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation and Indiana Department of Resources Division Of Forestry. The goal is to plant one million new trees in Indiana by 2016. Each $10 donation receives a TreeID so donors know exactly where their tree is planted and can visit the site. Visit www.theindianatreeproject.org for more information.