In this year alone, the Midwest has seen both record-breaking deep freezes and troubling heat waves. In fact, across the globe, Time reports that this past July was the hottest the Earth has ever been since temperature records began. And climate scientists agree. This trend will continue, bringing with it extreme weather patterns, natural disasters, and a slew of complications for Mother Earth and her inhabitants.
To combat my growing sense of unease, I called up the Earth-loving experts at Chicago’s Green Explorers Club. The Club, founded by two moms, Erin Gibb and Kelly Vincent, aims to teach kids about sustainability and good stewardship through after-school programs, workshops, and day camps. The pair assured me that good change is possible, and that it all begins with the smallest steps and our smallest family members.
“We have a tendency to dumb down big concepts for kids because we think they can’t grasp them,” Vincent explained. “But taking care of the Earth is a natural instinct for children, and they actually understand it a lot better than we do.”
Our task then is to give our children the time and tools they need to explore their natural world, nurturing their curiosities and empowering them to care for the planet. Here’s how:
If we want our kids to develop a love of nature, we first have to let them explore it. According to Vincent and Gibbs, the more exposure our little ones have to the outside world, the more empowered they will feel to protect it. So, get out in the backyard or go for a nature walk around your neighborhood. Even in a densely populated city, natural elements abound. Encourage your child to take notice of the trees lining your sidewalk and any small creatures they see. Collect leaves for art projects, scour the beach for shells, and look underfoot for tiny insects that may capture your child’s interest.
Grab the gardening gloves
Here’s something every mom knows: young kids love to get their hands dirty. Harness this love for mud by encouraging your little one to plant an indoor herb garden. At the Green Explorers Club, kids have the opportunity to craft their own garden from food cans, removing the labels and adding an artistic flair with paint and art supplies. Nab this idea, and your little one can have the satisfaction of studying and nurturing their plants as they grow. What’s more, Gibbs shared that when little ones grow their own food, they are more likely to taste outside of their comfort zones. So, if you’re looking to nip picky-eating in the bud, having your child plant an herb or veggie of their choice may be just the thing that inspires them to explore with their taste buds.
Develop simple habits
Practicing small and impactful daily habits around the home can be a good entry point for talking to kids about climate change and living eco-consciously. Encourage kids to take part in sorting and recycling. Start a compost bin for food scraps. Turn the lights off when you leave a room. Teach them to reuse items bound for the landfill for craft projects. And speaking of art supplies? Teach your little ones to color on both sides of the paper before reaching for a new page.
Each time you make an environmentally friendly lifestyle swap, explain to your kids the reason behind it. For example, Vincent suggested talking to children about avoiding individually wrapped foods. “You can tell them, ‘We’re not going to buy individual packets of Goldfish, for example, because that packaging goes into a landfill or into the oceans and then harms the animals,’” Vincent said.
Hang a bird feeder
Play up your child’s innate love for animals by hanging a bird feeder in your yard. There are many wooden varieties designed for children to decorate, though any ordinary feeder will do. Hanging it adjacent to a window makes an inviting spot for your little one to sit and observe nature from the comfort of your home. Point out unique birds, and teach your child about migration patterns, talking about which birds fly south for the winter and which can weather the cold.
Observe our pollinators
Vincent and Gibbs see a lot of value in teaching life-cycle lessons. The good news? You don’t even have to be a science teacher to do it. Purchasing a butterfly kit allows your child to observe an insect’s cycle from caterpillar to beautiful butterfly. You can also plant a pollinator garden or window box right in your own backyard. Using this guide from the United States Forest Service, you can choose a variety of flowers and plants that attract bees and butterflies, allowing you the chance to observe them in a natural habitat and discuss what an important role they play in the natural world.
Frequent the farmers’ market
The warmer months provide ample opportunity to come face-to-face with the farmers who grow our food. Next time you head to your local market, bring your little one around to visit the booths and choose a new-to-them vegetable or fruit. Not only will you stir your child’s curiosity and nudge them toward adventurous eating, but you will also impart an important lesson: it is gentlest on the planet to eat locally grown produce, and it’s pretty neat to give your hard-earned dollars right to the farmer who planted it.
There are many reasons to teach our children to be good stewards of the Earth — after all, this planet is the home they’ll inherit when they’re grown. Let’s ensure our kids have a happy and healthy world to live in by empowering them to be the change-makers our planet needs. As Gibbs said to me in her parting words, “If you don’t have kids interacting with the environment now, when they grow up, they won’t care enough to protect it. So, give them a variety of ways to learn and absorb Earth-friendly lessons so that when they grow up, they will have a foundation of sustainable and responsible principles no matter what they become in life.”