How to Inspire a Young Child to be Green

Jennifer Lance
September 12, 2012

I am the mother of two children, ages six and three, as well as a preschool teacher in a small, mountainous community in Northern California. Our family lives off-the-grid producing our own electricity from a micro hydro turbine in our creek. One of our family values is to live a green life, leaving behind the smallest carbon footprint as possible. Sharing our eco-values with our children is a big part of what we feel is our social responsibility as parents. For over a year now, I have been blogging about our experiences and the green products we use at Eco Child's Play. Here are a few ideas I have learned over the years that have helped my kids critically view the mass marketing of good directed at them, as well as inspire them to think critically of our daily actions in terms of how they affect the planet.

Walk the Green Walk! Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who believed that knowledge is socially constructed and culturally transmitted. For toddlers and preschoolers, this means that modeling green choices, as well as using language to interact with children around eco ideals, is the most effective way to inspire them. For example, my children are delighted to have their own reusable shopping bags. Inspired by the book My Bag and Me!, I got my children their own bags, which they proudly carry into the store. My three-year-old son puts his favorite foods in his bag at the health food store. Children will imitate what they see the adults around them doing, and given the proper tools, they can assimilate this knowledge into their own lives. On more than one occasion I've been accused of "walking the talk," and it definitely pays off when my children evaluate their own lives and choices using our green family values.

Talk the Green Talk We talk a lot about why we buy this natural product over that commercial one; why we can't drive somewhere if we can walk; why we can't leave all the lights on; why we can't eat that junk food, etc. Sometimes I think I have created an eco-monster when my daughter won't eat something at a restaurant because it is not organic, but secretly I am proud. Today, she asked me what the world "locavore" meant when we heard it on the radio. After I explained the definition, she then told me why it was better to buy locally produced products. Later, she critiqued her ballet teacher's handout for not using both sides of the paper, then noticed that the flagpole in the center of town had a world flag in addition to the US and CA flags. We then discussed how our green community recognizes that we all live on one planet and that the decision we make affect us all. She then asked me why her school didn't have a world flag. That is a good question!

Play with Eco Toys, Read Eco Books From the time my first child was born, I informed our family and friends that we did not want battery operated or plastic toys in our home. There are so many beautiful sustainably produced toys available, it is not a challenge to find toys that will inspire their imagination without destroying the earth. My children don't walk into a store and demand toys. Instead, they look at each toy and consider the materials and country of origin when selecting what they would like. I also believe that less is more when it comes to toys, as quality wooden toys will last at least for two generations, and children should be protected from the commercialization of childhood. It's hard to sell t-shirts, a movie, stickers, underwear, toothbrushes, etc. with the image of a wooden block on them! In addition, there is a plethora of wonderful children's books with green themes. Reading these books furthers our conversations about what it means to be eco-friendly, which then is often translated into my children's own artwork and stories. By modeling, talking with your child, and providing them with eco toys and clothes, young children are naturally inspired to be green. Power struggles do not ensue when your life as a family embraces going green, and soon you will feel proud when your child recognized that plastic toy they used to want is really landfill junk. Your child may be like mine and one day tell you, "Mom, the World is Getting Greener."

Originally published in April 2008. 

From the Parents

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