How to talk to your kids about the environment

kids environment

By Alyce Kirk

I have two kids, aged 4 and 6. Like many parents I worry about what they will grow up to be like, will they be well adjusted? Will they be happy? Who will they become? But more recently I have begun to worry if there will even be a world for them when they do grow up. 

Naturally, the thought of not having a world for my children to grow up into sent me into a panic, and I quickly began changing our lives to include less single waste items and make sustainable choices. My husband was easily converted to our new way of living, but the girls did take a little longer to understand why we had changed our lifestyle. 

I found knowing how to talk to kids about the environment paramount for getting them to care about looking after it. 

1. Instil a love of nature

We spend time outside every single day, no matter what the weather. I am a firm believer in there being no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. We eat outside when the weather is nice; we splash in puddles when it’s rainy. We talk about the seasons and the climate. They ask questions about nature, and they take joy in learning about it. Having a love of nature makes my girls really care about looking after it. 

nature

2. Own a pet

We have a cat, chickens, and fish. The girls are responsible for helping care for the animals, they often race to feed the cat each morning and eagerly peer into the chicken coop to see if we have any eggs. More recently they have brought a family of snails to live inside with us so they can be “looked after”. In looking after an animal they have developed a love of living creatures, and again, they care about their wellbeing and what happens to them. 

3. Feed the (book) worms

Read books about the environment to them. We have a great book called “what a waste” by Jess French which explains what happens to things when we “throw them away” and it really helped my eldest understand that there is no “away. The Lorex is also a firm favourite in our house but there are many more we have picked up along the way from the local library. This gives the girls a deeper understanding of harder to explain issues, and helped give me the words to explain things in a kid-friendly way.

4. Pick up rubbish

We pick up rubbish when we visit the park and beaches in our local area. This has led the girls to identify others not looking after the environment and call out bad behaviour. 

Editors note: if you want to make it a regular thing, adopt a street in your area and commit to a regular clean visit Get Fitter with Litter

pick up rubbish

5. Composting

We have a veggie patch and compost heap. This teaches the girls what is required to make food, and has given me opportunities to talk about food miles with them. While I am a vegetarian, the girls still eat small amounts of meat at their grandparents home. Growing our own food has led to many questions about where their food does come from. 

gardening

6. Educate

I have been able to bring attention to the fact that we haven’t had much rain lately and what that means for our dam levels. The girls know that we have had bad bush fires lately and that is because of the dry weather. We talk about ways to save water, like turning off the taps while we brush teeth. 

When I take reusable bags to the shops and we see people using plastic single use bags I have used this as an opportunity to discuss why I choose to re-use with my kids. Having visited Borneo a few years ago and seeing the impact plastic has on sea turtles, My 6-year-old is very passionate about not using plastic bags. 

I also like to talk to my kids about the politics around why there is a climate change concern, and how people are working towards changing this. Its been very exciting for them to hear about Greta Thunberg, who’s a kid just like them and making a difference. 

7. Be the researcher

The girls know that oxygen comes from trees. We need trees to breathe. They know that when people cut down trees, this is bad for the environment. Recently I asked the girls what they would do to change the world and my 4-year-old suggested replanting the trees that burnt down in the recent bush fires. It blew me away that she understood the importance of replacing lost resources. 

8. Answer all questions

I answer all questions asked of me as honestly as I can. If I don’t know the answer we find out together! It’s okay to not have all the answers. I try not to scare my girls, they are still quite young. I make sure I answer questions truthfully but use kid-friendly language. I always end these tricky chats with positive ways we can make a difference. 

About the author

Alyce Kirk is Banish's resident Parenting Editor and mum of two girls who is kicking goals when it comes to reducing her families footprint and wants to empower her kids to make the best choices for our beautiful planet.


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