Building Your Child's "Green" Vocabulary

Amy Rees
April 13, 2016

Our children are our teachers in so many ways, obvious as well as subtle.

Their very appearance in our lives immediately certifies us as experts in all sorts of things—and rookie-league amateurs in all kinds of others! Then they go to school, where they come to know facts that still elude us after all these decades. The species names of dinosaurs that we can neither pronounce nor spell trip easily from their lips. They catch sight of the moon in the sky and announce that it is waxing. Hunh? Whaddjou say? Sigh. It's only the beginning of a lifetime of a parent asking "How do you know that!?!" 

And then they can fix things—the finicky remote control, the digital camera settings, the Earth. That's right: their innate aptitude for tinkering and patching and taking a different and astonishingly successful approach applies to our world too. They are ready to tread more gently on this planet—they talk about it at school, their habits are forming in new and better ways, and they are ready to be our teachers.

Give them a "green" vocabulary, and let them be our guides. And how, you ask, is a "green" vocabulary is built? Letter by letter, naturally:

A is for Atmosphere. The air, the fragile concoction that gives us life. Kids love the idea of keeping out bad stuff that is invisible to the naked eye. Give them some basics about pollution and carbon dioxide and get out of their way.

B is for Bees and Butterflies. The key to our thriving ecosystem. Brush up on the fluttering, buzzing basics here.

C is for Compost. Whether you have your own worms or just switch to Bio-Bags for the stuff that goes in the green can, the hands-down most dramatic way to reduce your family's garbage output is by separating out compostables. Many preschools do this, and it's second nature to our kids there. They'll expect home habits to follow suit.

D is for Dr. Seuss, who tells the conservation tale (like so many others) better than anyone else. Read The Lorax. Then live The Lorax.

E is for Effect on the Earth. What you consider when you do something. Keeping the big (in fact, biggest) picture in mind goes a long way toward a "green" life.

F is for Faster isn't always Fine. Plastic bottles are speedy and convenient, and there's also a mile-wide raft of them floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps plastic bottles can simply be a never-again for your family. Or perhaps it's something else that works better for you -- we've got lots of ideas for you here and all over here

G is for Grow. Grow it, and understand. From watching the life cycle in your own butterfly pavilion to giving a pea (or potato or avocado) sprout that magic combination of soil, water and sunlight, gardening is often the a-ha moment in preschooler's budding scientific minds.

H is for Hybrid. We had road-trip games about spotting VW Bugs (and hitting our siblings...); our kids can Prius-spot! Teach them about hybrid cars, and have them listen in wonder as a hybrid engine soundlessly pulls away from a stop -- so cool!

I is for Ice cap, rapidly melting. Tell the story of polar bears and penguins and why we should care for their part of the world, as well as its effect on our part of the world.

J is for Just a little bit helps. We are especially fond of the easy tips found on the NRDC website.

K is for Keep it, instead of tossing it. Kids are great at repurposing things, and we've got a bunch of ideas for you here!

L is for Local. Experts posit that where your food is grown is even more important than how it is grown—or at least that maintaining local ties to growers means both less energy wasted in transit and a closer nexus between farm and kitchen, which makes it more obvious that pesticides and other toxins are unwelcome.

M is for Mindful. It sounds a bit much for little ones, but we still think it's fair. Childhood already weaves together the carefree and the attentive, so perhaps it will be easier for them to stay mindful of being gentle with our world without being obsessive. 

N is for Necessary. "Is this really necessary?" is the opening salvo of your new eco-consciousness.

O is for Organic. Especially in dairy products and in these "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables, spend the extra money on organic products. But see "L"...

P is for Pollution. Everday solutions to lots of kinds of pollution are found here, from the endlessly resourceful Environmental Working Group.

Q is for Quick check. Another way of being mindful (see "M") and doing only what is necessary (see "N") and keeping things simple (see "S"). Do a quick check in your head before using, tossing, buying, etc. 

R is for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The foundation of earth-friendly living. And a great Jack Johnson song!

S is for Simple. Our goal in eco-friendly parenting, as in so many things....

T is (not) for Trash. Instead of tossing it, sort it (recycling, compost, garbage) and use the right words too. "Can you put this in the recycling for me, sweetie?" "Do you think this goes in composting or garbage?"

U is for Unplug it. Which brings us to...

V is for Vampire energy. The greatest, spookiest phrase to come out of the "green" movement so far. Perfect for preschoolers, especially your newly-deputized Light Switch Police Officer.

W is for Water, which we all need to thrive. From drinking from the tap (filtered as necessary) and not from plastic bottles, to turning off the running water while brushing your teeth, and thinking of the effects on water in rivers, lakes and oceans, the world of water is a great way to introduce little kids to a greener life.

X marks the spot where we live. Connect to the world around you, whether through a garden or a local farm or keeping track of air quality days or weather or any ol' way you can think of.

Y is for YOU can make a big difference. And in fact, if you don't do it, who will?  (See "D".)

Z is for Zoos, which are often filled with endangered animals for us to learn about.  The best goal of all that learning would, of course, be to get the animals back into the wild to thrive—then, our zoos would be filled with success stories!

From the Parents

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