Pass it On!: Raising kids to be stewards of the Earth is no child’s play

Antartica-NewParenting in the age of climate change can be overwhelming. As I try to raise my young children to be environmentally conscious citizens, I use the theory of environmental education David Sobel writes about in his book Beyond Ecophobiawe must first teach children to love the earth, then we can teach them to protect it

We are a family who loves the beach and the woods – two environments that Rhode Island has in spades. We get outside every day and keep a running list of things we love – beautiful rocks for our rock collection, changing colors of the sky, hills we run up and dash down, sounds, silence – it’s different every day and it never ever ends. Through constant mindful exploration my kids have fallen in love with the planet, and together we work on finding ways we can help take care of it.

Sadly, trash was too easy to identify as a problem – it’s everywhere. Trying to pick it all up would make us crazy, so we set reasonable goals. Every time we walk the dog we pick up one piece of garbage, when we go to the beach we fill a small bag as soon as we get there. Once we’re done, we’re done – we love being outside and feel good that we’ve done a little thing to help the earth as we enjoy it. Picking up trash helps us think about our own waste, making us more likely to carry reusable bags, containers and silverware, and to buy and properly sort recyclables when we cannot reuse.

We love leaving our home in Pawtucket for local adventures, but as we watch cars spew exhaust it’s been easy for us to see that the way we travel matters. We are a one-car family and prefer to use our bikes or ride the bus whenever we can. On the bus we stretch our legs, enjoy sharing the ride with many different people and delight in going places only buses can go, like the Thayer Street Tunnel. Bike riding is joyful; there is a freedom being on two wheels, determining our own pace and route, and using our own body’s power to get us where we are going. And even my kids know that life is better when you never have to look for a parking spot!

Our closets are constantly evolving. Between growth spurts and changing seasons, life with kids is one wardrobe overhaul after another. It’s important to me that my children don’t see clothing as disposable. Together we sort outgrown clothes to share with younger friends and family members, and we always accept used clothing when it is offered. When shopping we always hit the thrift store first, delighting in the hunt and the discovery of the one-of-a-kind item even more than we delight in keeping the things we buy out of the landfill.

We do not live an environmentally perfect life – there’s plastic all over our house, we eat meat, I constantly dream of long plane trips – but we try to make decisions that are good for our planet as often as we can. I talk to my kids about the choices we make and what I find important to consider. Practicing eco-conscious thought processes, taking environmental action and relentlessly engaging in loving the earth motivates our family to make the world a better place. I believe what the world needs in this time of climate crisis is grown-ups who are thoughtfully working to love and care for the only planet we have as best they can; this will inspire our kids to do the same.

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