Photo by Darby Herrington
We all have important roles in caring for and preserving our planet. Even the smallest steps from the littlest people can do a world of difference. Starting simple, everyday conservation tasks at a young age will form good habits and our children and theirs will be more apt to live eco-friendly lifestyles long after we are gone.
Here are a few ideas:
- FLIP it! The switch, that is. Between 18 and 24 months, toddlers begin to take delight in lights - literally. They love to flip switches to see lights go on and off. Use this opportunity to teach them if we do not need the light, we keep it off. Make it fun by saying "FLIP!" every time you shut off a light. Then if they leave a light on, you can ask them, "Did you FLIP the switch?" They will go running back to turn it off with gusto.
- CLOSE it! Energy conservation can be tough to teach because energy is more or less an intangible concept to kids. However, even young children can feel the difference between warm and cool air. Use those senses to teach preschoolers that it saves energy to keep air out or in the house. We heat the house in the winter, so we want to save it and not let it out. When entering or exiting the house you can share in the excitement of keeping warm air inside during the winter months and cool air inside during the summer by hustling and shutting the doors behind you as fast as you can. Quick, quick, quick! Just watch out for little fingers! The same lesson goes for the refrigerator and freezer doors. We want to trap the good, cold air in and keep the warm air OUT! You'll be amazed at how easily it becomes habit for kids to not leave doors standing wide open.
- FIX it! We exist in a culture of instant gratification. We have gotten into the ugly habit of tossing out broken or damaged items to immediately replace them with new ones. All this does is clog landfills with more garbage and teach children that they never have to take care of their possessions. The worst part is, much of the "garbage" is actually in fine shape and could be repaired with a little effort. If you do not know how, just GOOGLE it. It is amazing the detailed instructions you can turn up to fix just about anything. Make a project out of it with your pre-schooler. Get out the tools and materials and see how thrilled they are when you fix the broken item together and get it up and running again.
- RE-USE it! Some things really cannot be fixed, but they most certainly can be re-used in some way or form. Get creative to find ways to use the materials from damaged items, whether for something practical or something just for fun. There are many clever ideas nowadays for reusing just about every household item you have. Get your kids involved and they will show you the possibilities. Ever notice how your toddler or preschooler will go around the house collecting things like empty CD cases, old shoelaces and empty lotion bottles to play or build with? Keep a "project box" to hold scraps, gizmos and thingamajigs that can be re-used for future crafting and projects. With a child's imagination and a little glue and glitter, just about anything becomes productive fun and your child will have learned a lesson in reusing.
- RECYCLE it! Between 24 and 36 months your toddler should be able to understand the concept of what goes in the garbage. By the same age, he should be able to grasp that some things go in recycling instead of the trash. It is a little more difficult to discern which items are recyclable, but by preschool age, your kiddo should have it down pat. Get them in the habit of putting their own recyclables (yogurt cups, applesauce cups, water bottles, etc.) where they belong instead of in the garbage can.
- SEE it! Much of what belongs under the earth conservation umbrella is just plain over the heads of little ones. As we adults know from politics and media, earth conservation is a complex issue with many, many layers. Trying to explain the heavier details to young children is confusing and may cause them to lose interest. Children learn from seeing and doing. If you want to show them more than what goes on in their own little world, take a field trip to the local landfill and recycling center. For kids (and adults), seeing first-hand the gigantic masses of waste that accumulate is a huge eye opener. But do not end your field trip there. As often as possible, spend quality time walking in the woods, discovering wildlife around a pond, or playing in the park to discover and experience the beauty of nature. As they get older, kids will make the connection between taking the steps you taught them and the impact their efforts will have in keeping the earth a cleaner, healthier place. And they will continue to spread the love.
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