Better World

30-day challenge for raising an eco-conscious child

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It’s easy to assume that kids are too young to understand climate change, but they’re a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and with the right messages and activities it’s easy for them to learn. Plus, the sooner they’re exposed to eco-conscious ways of living and doing things, the greater the likelihood they’ll grow into eco-conscious adults. 

Start by being a good role model. If your child sees you opting for glass over plastic and taking your energy consumption seriously, they’re more likely to follow suit. This 30-Day Challenge provides small, easy, and fun ways to get your whole family started on the path to being more eco-conscious.

  • Reuse old items. Old clothes make great dress-up fashion. Well-read magazines are perfect for art projects. Cardboard boxes can morph into cars, rockets, and all kinds of things. Make it a habit to find new uses for old things and your child will learn that there’s always an eco-conscious way of looking at what might have been considered trash.
  • Take a wildflower walk. Wildflowers are the native plants that Mother Nature grows. They differ in each area of the country — and the world — depending on the climate and soil. Start a wildflower book or look up a glossary of wildflowers online and talk about why these maintenance-free plants are great for the environment.
  • Know portion sizes. Cooking and serving appropriate amounts of food can make a huge difference in minimizing food waste.
  • Talk about climate change. Sure, it’s scary, but how will they grow up wanting to do their part if the subject is never talked about? Our step by step guide makes it easy.
  • Make a DIY bird feeder. These not only supplement birds’ natural food choices when sources become unreliable (often due to habitat disruption), they help parent birds feed their babies, minimizing the time they have to be away from them, foraging for food.
  • Plant a tree. Trees release nourishing oxygen into the air, provide habits for birds and other wildlife, and help reduce ozone levels in urban areas. Try planting a tree every year as a way to mark birthdays or other special occasions.
  • Make a nature notebook. A love of the outdoors often begins with trips to public parks or frequent visits to your backyard. Make a goal to learn something new each time you’re out—like the name of a local tree and how to identify it, one type of rock found in your area, or a new fact about the behavior of squirrels in your neighborhood. Your child (with your help, if they need it) can keep a nature notebook with all the cool stuff you learn and drawings of what you find!
  • Go fishing. Even pretend fishing games for little ones present an opportunity to talk about the importance of wildlife preservation, especially for animals that are going extinct.
  • Visit your local dump. Once they see how much trash REALLY accumulates, they’ll never think of it the same way again. Talk about why trash gets organized, and what happens to it once it’s tossed. If you’d rather learn from home, PBS can take you on a video tour of a recycling plant.
  • Make recycling a habit. Sorting plastic, paper, and cardboard is fun for little kids and a great opportunity to talk about how it reduces the waste we let loose into the environment. For older kids, it’s a great time to introduce the topic of non-biodegradable waste (the stuff you can’t recycle).
  • Conserve H2O. Turning off the tap water when brushing your teeth and washing your hands can help save hundreds of gallons each year.
  • Walk or bike places when you can. If your destination is close enough to avoid driving, you’ll save fuel and minimize air pollution (not to mention the fresh air and exercise)!
  • Learn about poop power. Yup, you read that right. You can get kids hooked on environmentalism by introducing it with one of their favorite topics—poo! Watch this video together to learn how one family creamery transforms “cow pies” into renewable energy.
  • Consider a pet. Fostering a love of animals opens the gateway to conversations about how they’re impacted by pollution and climate change, leaving some near extinction. Caring for a pet helps kids foster appreciation and empathy for all animals. Can’t keep a pet? Visit your nearest animal shelter and volunteer to feed, walk, or play with the animals there.
  • Volunteer for a local cleanup. Many communities organize volunteer efforts to pick up litter from beaches and parks, something even little kids can do with you.
  • Watch eco-conscious family movies. Ice Age: The Meltdown; Dr. Seuss: The Lorax; and anything from DisneyNature are great picks.
  • Turn things off. Lights, televisions, laptops, gaming systems—getting kids in the habit of turning things off when they’re not in use will help them be better stewards of the environment when they get older.
  • Read eco-conscious books together. Good Reads has a list of 40 eco-conscious books for children of all ages, including Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen; Michael Recycle Meets Litterbug Doug; and The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps.
  • Introduce activists. Books are also a great way to introduce kids to environmentalists like Greta Thunberg, the young climate change activist who became a household name. Talking about youth activists can really inspire kids, and show them that people of ANY age can make a huge difference.
  • Switch to rechargeable batteries. They’re perfect for kids’ toys and electronics, they reduce the amount of garbage you have, and they keep toxic metals out of landfills.
  • Make homemade cleaning supplies. You’d be surprised what a little vinegar and baking soda can do. Google “how to make natural cleaning solutions” for myriad “recipes” that work just as well as those made with harsh chemicals. Kids will love the lab-like feel of the “experiment,” providing an opportunity to talk about what you’re doing—and why.
  • Plant a vegetable garden. When children participate in the growing of their own food, they learn to appreciate nature’s bounty on a deeper level. If you don’t have access to a large green space, don’t worry—many kitchen staples can be grown in a small pot on a windowsill! Start with easy herbs and veggies that go great together, such as tomatoes and basil.
  • Visit local farms and farmer’s markets. Meeting local farmers and getting to see how and where their food is grown helps children appreciate the origins of what they eat as well as nature’s ability to nourish us. Most farmers are happy to talk about how their produce is grown, especially to curious kiddos. Can’t get to one? Take a virtual farm tour from home instead!
  • Switch to no-waste lunches. Reusable pouches and containers made with non-toxic materials keep food fresh without creating non-biodegradable waste.
  • Use energy-efficient bulbs. The next time you need to switch out a light bulb, opt for compact fluorescent or LED bulbs over the incandescent variety. (This is a great task for older children.) You’ll enjoy the same light output but they’ll last much longer and use far less energy.
  • Celebrate hand-me-downs. Invite parents with children of different ages to a swap meet of sorts—everyone brings gently used clothing, toys, and gear that their children have outgrown and stocks up on “new” gear at the same time. It saves money and reduces the load on the environment by extending the products’ shelf life.
  • Decorate cloth bags. Talk to your kiddo about the impact that plastic bags can have on the environment. Not only do they kill 100,000 marine animals every year, a plastic bag takes up to 500 centuries to degrade in a landfill! Decorate canvas bags instead using fabric markers, paints, stamps, and sewing notions—then use your bags whenever you go shopping so you don’t have to use the stores’ bags.
  • Play “I Spy Nature.” It’s one thing to just be outside, it’s another to pay attention to the natural world around you. The next time you’re out for a stroll or in the car with your child, point out any birds, butterflies, and flowers you see and talk about how much they add to the world around us.
  • Start composting. A great way to reuse food waste is to compost it, which turns it into nourishing soil for your garden. One Tree Planted has a free downloadable kit with step-by-step instructions that make it easy to start composting, plus a few other eco-conscious activities, too.
  • Collect rainwater. Any large container or bucket will do. Once it’s full, use the rainwater to water your plants. 

If you enjoyed this, check out our other 30-Day Challenges for families!

And don’t forget to get your free printables for each of these fun and connection-building challenges!

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.