It's hard to recall a time when recycling was a novelty, a time before the universal recycling symbol—you know, those three bent arrows that form a kind of triangle—became ubiquitous, a time when everyone just threw everything away. But those wasteful days, really, aren't so far behind us, and plenty of people, even today, still chuck cans and bottles and boxes and old newspapers without so much as a thought to the state of the landfills. Taking care of the environment, though it seems intuitive, isn't something that comes naturally. Rather, it's a skill, like riding a bike, that needs to be learned and practiced. And the earlier that children gain an appreciation for the environment, and the earlier that they learn that their efforts can make a difference, the more likely they are to take an interest in protecting the planet. So how can you get your kids invested in the earth? How can you encourage them to practice good environmental habits, for life? Following are five easy ways to get your kids to go a little more green.
1. Get into nature.
The simplest way to motivate kids to take care of the planet is to give them regular chances to experience it. Trips to the woods and to the ocean and to the mountains are more than just fun and diverting; they're also reminders of how important it is to protect these beautiful, vulnerable treasures. And while camping adventures and long hikes are fantastic, you don't need to travel far from home to delve into nature. An exploration of your local park, or even a study of the trees in your backyard, can be all it takes to get your kids excited about nature.
Be mindful, when you go to the grocery store, to the toy store, or to your favorite take-out, of how much extra packaging accompanies whatever you intend to buy. Dolls and toy cars, for example, don't need cardboard boxes and little baggies and vexing plastic fasteners, and water, which you can get from home, doesn't need packaging at all. Try, whenever possible, to buy things with the least amount of packaging, and encourage your kids to do the same.
Lots of stuff that people consume every day, like water, sandwiches and snacks, can be packed in reusable containers, instead of in disposable ones. Reusable water bottles and sandwich containers may cost a little more than disposable bottles and plastic baggies, but that's because they last a lot longer and are far less taxing on the environment. Try to limit your trash (and your recycling) by reusing whatever you can. And remind your kids to draw on both sides of the paper—why let that other side go to waste?—and to consider, as they aim for the trash can, whether whatever they're tossing really needs to be thrown away.
Recycling has never been easier, thanks to widespread curbside pick-ups and tons of public bins, and even the littlest children can be taught to recycle their bottles, cans and paper. Explain to your children why recycling is important. Don't just assume, because it's become so commonplace, that recycling is something that they understand. And praise them whenever they remember to recycle instead of just tossing all of their waste in the trash.
5. Spend some time learning about environmental issues.
Environmental disasters, while tragic and horrifying, can be excellent reminders of why taking care of the earth is a responsibility that belongs to us all. Read about oil spills and air pollution, talk about the short- and long-term effects of these disasters, and think about what you and your kids can do to prevent further damage to the environment. And if learning about deforestation and global warming leaves you discouraged and depressed, put your plans for a healthier planet into action: venture into the woods and pick up garbage; write a letter to your congressperson; or walk out back, with visions of beauty and the future, and plant a happy, little garden.
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