Teaching Kids to Love the Earth, One Day At A Time

Earth Image by Elena Mozvhilo

Teaching Kids to Love the Earth, One Day At A Time

Written by Anna Davies 

Image by Elena Mozvhilo 


As a kid, I loved the book 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. Published in 1990, the book is likely one a lot of millennials poured over, simultaneously amazed and amped up that they could make a difference. I remember my surprise that the Earth was in trouble, but felt equally confident that by making sure to recycle, pick up litter, and not leave the lights on too long, I could make it better.


Flash forward thirty years and I’ve lost that “we can do anything” confidence. As the parent to a six-year-old, climate change terrifies me and makes me feel helpless. The legacy we’re leaving to our children seems horrifying, and a chipper “let’s turn the lights off when we leave the house!” seems woefully insufficient. The hugeness of the climate crisis has left me feeling paralyzed about the steps I can take. 


My daughter, though, has the same confidence I had as a kid. She looks out for litter, treats insects with care and will go out of her way to avoid stepping on a struggling plant. I want her to cultivate her inner eco-warrior — and reignite my own. Here, some parent-tested strategies to do exactly that.


Let Kids Love the Earth. Playing in dirt, getting muddy, and exploring wild places near you are all ways to let kids begin to love the earth on their terms. Yes, climate change is a tragedy, but the relationship between humans and Earth can be a love story. The more you teach your kids to inhabit the natural world, away from cars, smartphones, and a scheduled list of to-dos, the more they will naturally become responsible stewards of the planet.


Read Together. My vintage copy of 50 Things is dated. But there’s so many picture books that tackle big issues like climate change. Some to check out:

  • Greta and the Giants by Zöe Tucker. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, this picture book reimagines the fight against climate change as a story about a little girl whose world is threatened by giants.

  • We Are Water Protectors, by Carol Lindstrom. An allegory that tells the story of Standing Rock and the importance of protecting water.

  • My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan. A story that puts into words why the Earth matters to us.

  • Climate Change For Babies by Chris Ferrie and Katherina Petrou. A board book that breaks down climate change into understandable — and actionable – topics that works well as a refresher for parents as well as kids. 


Model Environmentally-Friendly Behavior. Yes, that includes switching off the lights. Teach kids that little things can add up. Part of this includes being mindful of consumption. Some ways to teach this in a fun way:

  • Organize a socially distanced toy swap with friends. For kids, new toys don’t have to be in the box to be special. Encourage friends to trade toys, so that everyone can see that reusing things can be fun.
  • Borrow instead of buy. Instead of always buying things you need, lean on friends and family for those occasional-use items that will otherwise become clutter in the closet.
  • Consider gift-free parties. Teach kids to focus on experiences over things by holding gift-free birthday gatherings and consider gift-free birthdays and celebrations within your family.

 

Talk Through Your Feelings. Because climate change can feel so big and full of despair, it can be tempting to shield your children from how you feel. But talking through your feelings can help you come up with solutions together. From committing to being more environmentally conscious at home to becoming involved in local or global efforts, teaching your kids that everyone, big or small, can do their part can be a valuable lesson.


Show Up. In the parenting years, especially this year, just getting through some of your to-do list can be a huge accomplishment. It can be tough to add more to your plate. But just like you teach kids their small actions matter, so do yours. Voting in local elections, helping with climate initiatives, and becoming aware of what’s going on in your community and beyond can be incredibly valuable steps in providing a voice for Mother Earth.