Environmental Education 101: How to Train a New Generation of Eco-Activists

This topic is near and dear to Enviro Girl’s heart, especially as we celebrate Earth Day this Sunday.  All the great superheroes train up a new generation of crime-fighting warriors.  The same must be true for those on the environmental front:  we have an obligation to teach our children how to protect the planet and its resources and we have to explain why it’s an important value.   In Enviro Girl’s mind, this boils down to a short list of 3 easy things we can do as parents and teachers:

1.  Make your kids go outside.  Quit sending them the message that being outdoors is dangerous (think of how often we do!  Insect bites, rashes, allergies, sunburn–kids get inundated with the message that it’s safer to be indoors, in an environment sanitized for their protection).  If children have no relationship with the earth, the Great Outdoors, nature, they’ll feel no obligation to protect it.  You protect what you know and love and the best way to know and love nature and our planet is to get out and experience it.  Whether you take your kids camping, hiking, fishing, Geo-caching, to the local playground or to a National Park, get your kids outside.  Outdoor activities can include swimming, biking, gardening, playing kick the can with neighbor kids or gathering dandelions.  The more time a kid spends outside, the more they’ll notice things, like how ants persevere to lift something five times their size or how all flowers begin with symmetrical shapes. They’ll learn to appreciate fresh air, fireflies, sunshine, lilacs, raindrops, birdsong and snowflakes.  All love of nature begins with being in nature, so slap some sunscreen and bug spray on your kids and kick ’em out the back door!

2.  Hold your kids to your environmental ethics and explain why.  “Turn off the lights!  We need to save electricity.”  “Help me get these clothes in off the lines–line drying is free and better for the planet than using an electrical clothes dryer.”  “We have to pick beans today so we have some for supper–our homegrown beans always taste better than the canned ones.”  Model behavior, and talk about it.  Just as we explain “Don’t touch a hot stove, you’ll burn yourself,” we have to explain why we bring our own shopping bags, pass on bottled water and buy organic food.

3.  Demonstrate to your kids that less is more.  Any analysis of the big environmental issues–pollution, diversity, land use, shrinking resources–boils down to our habits of consumption.  If we’re serious about addressing environmental protection, we need to use less, consume less, buy less–we need to embrace a simpler lifestyle.  Turn off the TV, get off the computer/phone/video game, get out of the shopping malls, quit spending and getting stuff.  Lower the bar–a kid will enjoy a trip to the library and baking cookies at home just as much as they’ll enjoy a trip to Barnes & Noble and a trip through the McDonald’s drive thru.  Quality matters more than quantity.   Start framing your children’s world in experiences instead of things–it’s easy enough to do.  Start by asking your children what they’d like to do  to celebrate a holiday instead of what they want to get.  Make a list of free and cheap pleasures to pursue over summer vacation.  Enviro Girl could go on and on about how indulging in a materialistic and consumption-based lifestyle is bad for both the environment, our economy and our character development, but she wants you to keep reading.  Perhaps she’ll expound more in a different post.  For now, she urges you to try it and see how kids can be just as happy to stay up late to read a story together as they are to stay up late to watch TV.

Tell the Eco Women:  are you doing any or all of these things with the next generation?  What ideas do you have for bringing up the next generation of Eco-Activists?

In honor of Earth Day 2012, the Eco Women are giving away an assortment of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seeds to two winners. What better way to celebrate our Earth than by getting a little earth on our hands!

All you have to do to enter this giveaway is leave a comment on this post. You don’t have to say anything in particular, but feel free to tell us about a new eco action you’ve been trying or something you’d like for us to talk about here on this blog. This giveaway is open until noon on Earth Day, after which, we will randomly draw two names and contact the winners.

To learn more about Earth Day and what you can do to help Planet Earth, visit the official Earth Day website.

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5 thoughts on “Environmental Education 101: How to Train a New Generation of Eco-Activists

  1. I don’t remember ever being inside as a kid. I was always outdoors. Fishing, swimming, playing with my dogs, racing with the schoolbus to my friend’s house. Now that I’m an adult, I find myself inside more often which is hard on me because I miss planting flowers and trees around my old house. I don’t have any kids, but when my cousins visit I take their kids out for walks and teach them about nature and they absolutely love it. 🙂 When I do have children, I plan on being outside as much as possible with them and having them stay outside and play so they appreciate it as much as I do.

  2. What I find tough is raising kids who are surrounded by other kids who have a lot of stuff. My daughter wants things her friends have and I feel bad always saying no for environmental and other reasons. I do buy things for her but I say no a lot more. How do you reduce consumption without your kid feeling deprived?

    • It’s tough when a kid has friends whose lives are full of STUFF. I feel like we’re always saying NO, too. I think when kids hit age 8 or 9 they can begin to appreciate having experiences more than things–I often take my kids PLACES to DO STUFF, but tell them, “no tokens, to treats–getting to play laser tag/bowl/video games/eat out” is enough.” We also focus on quality over quantity, one nice squirt gun instead of a half-dozen cheap ones, although I imagine this is easier with boys than girls–girl toys tend to be based on volume, aren’t they? Collections of things. We’re not too proud to get used things, though with 3 boys I find buying new means things will last through the series of “handing down.” We’ll go places like Play it Again Sports for gear and find stuff at rummage sales. We also rent video games/DVDs instead of always buying them. One thing I have done to affect our local consumer culture is this: for my sons’ birthdays, we invite friends over to do stuff, do not tell the guests it’s a BIRTHDAY party, so no gifts come with the kids. Instead of giving party bags filled with CRAP, we give the kids a good time, some great food (pizza/burgers/chips) and cake–and send them home tired! A couple of times we gave party favors like pool noodles for a swimming party, and what has happened is other families are beginning to do this, too! It’s like they’re grateful someone has lowered the bar–they’re saving some money and not feeling all the peer pressure to put together goodie bags and buy presents for other people’s kids. In the past year my sons have attended birthday parties now where the birthday child requested no gifts or donations to a good cause AND where no goodie bags got doled out at the end. A few times the goodie bags were free DVD rentals at a local store with a package of microwave popcorn attached to the coupon.

      • thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, especially about birthday parties. My oldest is six and I hope she comes to appreciate experiences over stuff eventually.

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