Do your bit for climate change by teaching your kids to care for and nurture the planet
With the global population set to reach 11.2 billion by the year 2100, there’s been a big buzz surrounding the impact that raising kids can have on climate change. It follows a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, which suggests that having one fewer child per family could be an effective way to cut carbon emissions by 58 tonnes of CO2 each year of a parent’s life. The statistics are sobering but experts agree that such a personal choice is far more multifaceted than it seems (not least because many Western countries already have a falling birth rate), and indeed, there are other actions you might want to consider such as following a vegetarian diet, avoiding long-haul flights or selling your car. However, what it does highlight is the environmental responsibility that we parents have to raise kids who will care for the world. After all, our children are the planet’s future. But how can you encourage change without inflicting anxiety upon the young? And is it really possible to raise a green family when you’re shattered and faced with enough washing for a small army? Here are a few simple things you can do today to teach your children how to live a greener and more earth-conscious existence.
Spending more time outdoors should be at the heart of your ecoparenting plan. Not only will getting in touch with nature improve your children’s ecological knowledge and give them an insight into what they’re trying to protect, but it will also boost their mental and physical wellbeing. Indeed, studies show that kids who frequently play outdoors are fitter, calmer and happier than those who don’t. Go camping in the summer, jump in puddles in the winter, encourage older children to walk or bike to school, or take family walks on weekends. The list of activities are endless and each one provides the opportunity to talk about the importance of nature. You might even learn a thing or two in the process! Follow your local Wildlife Trust centre to find out about expert-led activities, toddler groups and forest schools. And when it’s really too miserable to go outside (this is Britain after all), teach them about nature and climate change by staying indoors and reading earth-friendly books (see our panel for a few ideas).
The three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – are a key component of sustainable living, and studies show that it’s worth teaching children the habit of recycling when they’re under the age of six. Even children as young as two can help a parent to separate recyclable waste into different recycling bins (you might even want to turn this into a game), and older kids may enjoy learning about products made from recycled materials or going to the beach and seeing the trash that comes up on shore. This is a great way to start a conversation about waste reduction, not to mention help your kids get to grips with the complex topic of sustainability.
Wondering why your home is overrun by multicoloured plastic? According to 2019 data, the average British parent spends more than £365 on toys in a child’s first two years alone. Further data from toysharing company Whirli (whirli.com) shows that these toys may get little play time. “Parents admit that 23 percent of toys are neglected within a week of purchase,” says Nigel Phan, founder of Whirli. “Yet, few parents realise that having too many toys at once can be detrimental to their child’s development – recent research has highlighted that, when children have access to too many toys, they are more easily distracted and less creative than children with a smaller number of toys.” Of course, toys are important for skill-building, so teach your kids to care for and treasure their possessions. A great way to do this is to sign up for a toy-sharing scheme such as Whirli, Toy Box Club (toyboxclub.co.uk) or even a community run toy library. You could also swap toys with another family or buy and sell them on eBay. And when you do purchase new toys, opt for those made from sustainable materials such as wood, recycled plastic and biodegradable fabrics.
Switching the lights on, leaving the television on standby, turning on the taps – unless you have a renewable energy source, the energy you use in your home contributes to greenhouse-gas emissions. The kids won’t be able to help with the big things that will reduce energy use (such as insulating the walls to limit heat loss) but they can do their bit. Train them to switch off the lights when they’re not in use (set up steps for the little ones). Tell older kids to turn the television off at the plug and to use low-power mode on devices, which will save on recharging. And don’t let the water run while the youngsters brush their hands, face and teeth – teach them only to turn the taps on for the water they will use.
Did you know that people are buying twice as much clothing as they did a decade ago? Parents splash out an average of £764 a year on their children’s wardrobe, but what example does that set? “We have an obligation to teach the next generation that what they buy has an impact on the planet,” says Jeni Bolton, head of design at Frugi (welovefrugi.com), “Not only by causing tons of waste each year, but also by having a devastating effect on the lives of workers in the fast fashion industry.” Lead by example – consider buying second-hand or customised clothes. And when you do buy new, purchase responsibly by buying kids’ clothes that will last and get passed on. “Buy more gender-neutral pieces and look for responsibly-sourced fabrics such as clothing made from GOTScertified cotton,’ adds Jeni. Some brands such as Frugi also donate proceeds of their turnover to charity, so it’s worth researching where to buy gear from.
Teach your children about climate change through the power of storytelling
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