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Caring for the Earth

Dear Elizabeth,
I’d like to start showing my 4-year-old sister the importance of caring for the environment, but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any suggestions?
Gypsy Isea
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Model ways to respect & care for the environment
  • Talk about ways to recycle, reuse & reduce
  • Provide frequent, positive experiences outdoors
  • Plan activities that engage kids in caring for the environment
Expert Advice
Alan Greene
Alan Greene
The best way you can show a child how to care for the earth is to set a good example yourself. You will have the most impact by teaching about the parts of the environment that you care about the most, and that are changing your own actions. You can encourage this by using memorable statements – not telling a child what to do and not bragging about what you do – but by making simple statements about the action or its benefits. If you drop a bottle into a recycling container, you can say, “Recycling, it’s good for the bottle, it’s good for our planet.”

Why It’s Important
When you show kids ways they can be in harmony with the world, they really get it and they care deeply. They are forming habits that last a lifetime. Because of this, the next generation of kids has incredible power to make positive change. If we teach them our environmental consciousness now, they will surpass us with creative new ideas when they become teens and young adults.

When kids understand how we are all related, they make different decisions. For kids, the idea of global warming is a pretty elusive concept. If you show them a picture of a polar bear stranded on a diminishing ice floe and explain that the polar bear used to be able to swim from ice floe to ice floe, but because of global warming, the ice is melting and because of that, the polar bears are dying, then they get it! Use every way you can to introduce them to this magnificent world of ours. Video and music are great – but get outside and explore.

Introduce at an Early Age
It’s never too early to introduce kids to the concept of caring for the environment. It’s never too early to take green steps, or to teach our kids about them. The environmentally conscious decisions parents make during pregnancy make a huge impact on a child for the rest of his or her life. A great example of this is the positive impact on the reduction of asthma that can result from ridding your home environment of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Reducing exposure even during pregnancy is important.

Motivating Kids to Care for the Earth
Instinctively, kids understand the relationships they see in nature – both in the plant and the animal world – as long as they see it up close. In fact, they are often more excited about it than adults. Exposing kids to our national parks and the great education available at the parks is a wonderful way to help them get connected to the earth. I love growing a garden with my kids. When kids plant a seed or young plant, watch it grow, harvest the food, and eat it can be an amazing connection – especially in an organic garden where the soil is teeming with life. Watching nature shows like, “Our Amazing Planet” or “The March of the Penguins,” and use them as springboards for discussion.

Get the Whole Family Involved
One fun and simple place to start is with recycling. Get kids involved in looking for the recycle symbols on containers. Make it their responsibility to put anything that is recyclable in recycle bins. Start a family tradition of “packing it in and packing it out.” What I mean by this is, when you are out and you can’t find a recycling bin, take recyclable containers with you until you can find a recycling bin – even if that means carrying it all the way home.

When kids get older, you can have them start looking for numbers on the bottoms of containers that show what the recyclable material is made of. Recycling numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 are made of materials that are not only recyclable, but are made of materials that haven’t shown negative health side effects. Recycling numbers 3 and 6 both raise concerns. Number 7 is a grab bag symbol and many of the very best new bio-based materials are in this group. Unfortunately, many of the very worst materials are also in this group (such as polycarbonates), so try to avoid it if at all possible unless the container’s label details the contents of the packaging.
Child Care Provider Comments
Joanna Velarde
Joanna Velarde
Mother of two
My son knows that it’s important to not only respect the animals and insects on nature walks, but that he should do the same when he sees them around the house. We are careful when we go to grandma’s house. There are snails everywhere. My son knows to respect the snails. They are always around so we gently scoot them over or we jump over them. He used to want to stomp out the ant trails but he now knows that he should just let them be. He’s very protective over little bugs.
Cathy Agnew
Cathy Agnew
Cares for her grandchildren, mother of two
I take my four-year-old granddaughter with me to the recycling center in our neighborhood. I like making her a part of the process instead of just having the city pick it up for us.
Marianella Hickery
Marianella Hickery
Child care provider for 20 years
I use National Geographic magazines to teach the children about animals and how some of them are extinct and how we have to make sure that our environment is taken care of.

Being Earth-Friendly in Your Home Featured Activity:
Being Earth-Friendly in Your Home
Caring for the Earth Featured Video:
Caring for the Earth
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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