The other day my friend asked me: “How can I best speak to my kid about sustainability?” That got me to reflect on a topic that I care deeply about. Why is it difficult to speak to our kids about the topic of sustainability for kids?
Us adults can consider the effects that come from overfishing, climate change, and melting pole caps. Such effects are worrying and make us change our thinking and actions. Children don't think that far ahead. They experience the world much more intimately. But this natural curiosity can be an advantage when it comes to sustainability. It helps us to communicate with our little ones and see the world through their eyes.
In this blog post, I'm sharing my personal experiences and how you can explain sustainability to kids.Nathalie living her dream © Nathalie Nuerk
How do I explain sustainability to my child?
“Mom is the best!” This sentence not only melts mothers' hearts, but it is also the truth :) To our kids, we are the greatest. What we do, they want to copy. First and foremost, let us be a good example for them. If we embrace sustainability every day, we explain sustainability to our kids without exchanging a word.
For me, it has been an interesting experience, as I have to put my behavior to the test. I've always thought of myself as quite aware when it comes to treating the planet's resources. But together with my son Marvel, I spot unnoticed little sins. Now I pay even more attention to a sustainable way of life.
With Marvel, I worked out a few more tricks that will make it easier for you to explain sustainability for kids.
At eye level
In our daily interactions, I notice how my son experiences things in a different light than me. It's a great idea to try to see things from their perspective.
When it comes to sustainability, this can be extremely rewarding. Now when I speak to him, I have his fullest attention. I can see what he sees. My tone of voice changes, and also the way I explain sustainability to kids.
We talk about the things that need protecting and think of ways to make our planet a livable place in the future.
Let children talk about sustainability for kids
Speaking of an interesting change of perspective: The other day, I asked my five-year-old son to explain sustainability to me. It can be surprising how our little ones can explain something. Also when it comes to sustainability.
“You know mom when you drive a racing car that makes a lot of noise. It might be cool for me, but not for the world. The smoke that comes from the motor is bad for the air.”
He's right. I used that moment to speak about more environmentally friendly means of traveling.
Nobody is perfect
Nobody is perfect and nobody has to be. I believe that you can't start learning soon enough. And that also holds for the topic of sustainability. For example, I eat very consciously, but I have a big weakness for good cheese. And my son loves Vienna sausages.
When you explain sustainability to children and live together, you don't always have to be perfect. The idea is that each of us can contribute to an environment worth living in. Even the youngest ones.
Sustainability in daily life
Zero-waste, minimalism, saving resources: These words are hard for children to understand. But children can understand what is behind them.
Everyday life offers an endless amount of opportunities to communicate sustainability to kids in simple words and deeds.
My son loves writing the shopping list with me. We can plan what we need and what we can find at the weekly market. We go through the list and make sure that we buy food that we eat. If we are hungry, we avoid shopping, as it's too easy to buy things we don't need and regret getting. Not so speak of snacking on unnecessary sweets… :)
I explained to my son that sustainability means buying seasonally and regionally. He painted his jute bag, which he carries around every time we go shopping.
The app "Too Good To Go" has become an absolute must for me. With it, each and every one of us can save food that would otherwise be wasted.
A fair wardrobe
Marvel had grown into another size. Together we thought about what we should do with his favorite pair of pants. Does he have a friend who would be happy to wear it? Or better bring it to the second-hand store and earn a little bit of pocket money? Marvel chose option number two and exchanged the pair of pants for his new favorite car. Win-Win.
Fitting with this situation, I explained to him what fairly produced (children's) clothing has to do with sustainability.
Escape from everyday life, exploring new cultures and time with the family? Just the thought of it makes you want to travel? I feel you. The good news is: there are ways to travel sustainably and experience these amazing moments. In the past years, we stayed at countless hostels that are well connected by train and offer a lively place for the whole family. There are even youth hostels with a special focus on sustainability. We love camping. It costs pretty much nothing and the time spent together is priceless.
On our travels, the app “FairTrip” recommended sustainable restaurants and places to stay. And if you find something yourself, you can recommend it to the community. Sharing is caring.
With these 3 ideas, sustainability is a child's play
Feeling, playing, participating. Children want to experience things with all their senses. When it comes to explaining sustainability for kids, it's no exception. But enough explaining, now we play.
Look around in your home. What item deserves a new purpose? There are no limits to your creativity.
As an example, we use old jam jars as to-go drinking cups. Food waste does not necessarily have to go into the trash either. A celery stalk awakens to a new life in water. The same goes for carrots and salad.
We now live in Thailand and find lots of plastic on the beaches. But even in cities, the garbage often ends up next to the dustbin. Every day, we equip ourselves with garbage bags and collect plastic from the beach. More and more people have been joining us and it is becoming a real happening. Good things can also be fun!
Trash safari at the beach © Nathalie Nuerk
Sustainable drawing lesson
Turning off the water while brushing teeth? Let's paint a note and hang it over the sink!
We have a picture above pretty much every light switch, so we don’t forget to turn off the light. And in the kitchen, a little Picasso reminds us of the right way to separate trash. Sustainability for children - explained every day.
© Nathalie Nuerk
You want more?
We found a few more wonderful ideas to explain sustainability to kids:
Book suggestion: “The EARTH Book”
Book suggestion: “The Lorax”
Video idea: “What is sustainability?”
Video idea: “How Plastic Hurts the World”
We wish you lots of fun with these tips and would love to hear from you. Tell us how you explain sustainability to your kids!
Nathalie is living her dream. With her 5-year-old son, she set out to explore the world as a single mom. She made a brave move and bought a one-way ticket to SouthEast Asia after 10 years in Berlin. True to this burst of courage, she took the step to become a freelancer and is working as a remote freelance writer. Currently out of Thailand.