One of our family values is being conscious of the products we use and our actions that can contribute negatively toward the environment. I have a lot of room for improvement, and I am constantly striving to learn more. But what’s most exciting is that I can use the knowledge I have now and translate it into simple eco-friendly acts my toddler can learn. She does not understand the purpose behind each action, but I hope that instilling these values now will help her build habits that will lead to a lifetime of environmentally-friendly decision making.
If you are looking to teach your kids some eco-friendly habits, here are 5 simple ones that have helped me.
Recycle paper in brightly-colored bins
I didn’t even try to teach my daughter what the garbage can was for or how to use it. One day when she was 11 months old, she just walked up to it, lifted the lid and dropped a shoe in. It was a game to her for a few months, but now she understands that this is where her empty dirty wet diapers go, not mommy’s shoes. She learned this concept by watching us repeat these actions several times every day. Similarly, guiding her to properly dispose of recycled items will be a learning process but one that she can learn by watching me repeat these steps.
Easy ways to teach kids how to recycle can start with putting empty snack wrappers and junk mail in a blue bin, separate from the trash can.
Bring reusable totes grocery shopping
While living in Washington state, a law was enacted that banned plastic bags in stores and charged $.5 per bag if a patron needed one. This was a new concept I had to adjust to, and it took dozens of tote-less trips to the store before it became second nature. Now, whenever we go to the grocery store, my daughter watches as I hand the tote to the person bagging groceries, sees the items go in the bag, and then watches (and tries to help) me unload at home.
It feels just as natural as grabbing my purse and car keys, and I hope that my daughter learns that bringing reusable bags is as important and necessary as bringing money to the grocery store.
Alternatives to plastic straws and cups
Let’s clear up why plastic straws are a big deal. The negative environmental impact of plastic straws has been well documented for decades. Recently, private businesses and state laws have reflected what environmental scientists have been saying – stop using straws. According to a study by Better Alternatives Now, an estimated 7.5 percent of the plastic in the environment comes from straws or stirrers, and a report by the World Economic Forum predicts that by the year 2050, the plastic in our oceans will outweigh the fish.
For many adults and children, plastic straws are necessary to help drink and restaurants should still offer them for anyone requesting straws to help with a drinking or swallowing disability. Choosing to forgo plastic straws isn’t an option for everyone, but if you and your child can skip it, it’s a simple way to make a big impact over time.
Teaching our kids to use alternatives to plastic straws is so much easier than we think. As babies and into toddlerhood, it’s a natural habit already in place by reusing bottles and sippy cups. The cups our babies and tots use are either straw-less or come with a reusable rubber straw. We can show them the no-straw habit by refusing one at a restaurant or bringing a reusable one ourselves. Choosing a stainless steel or BPA-free tumbler over plastic bottles is easier now than ever with fashionable options sold everywhere from Target to Nordstrom.
My daughter carries around her sippy cup like a football everywhere she goes from her car seat to her crib. When she needs a refill, she will walk it over to the fridge and wait for me to pour the milk or water. She has already identified the habit of reusing the same cup, not throwing one away in exchange for another.
Wear the right layers to stay comfortable indoors
As a child, when I would complain to my parents that I was cold inside the house, my mom would reply with a serious snark, “go put some clothes on.” Of course, I had clothes on, just not the right ones. I’d huff and puff to my room and grab socks, pants and a sweater. When I moved into my own apartment and was responsible for the utilities for the first time in my life, I had a lot more respect for my parents teaching me this lesson at an early age.
According to the Consumer Energy Center, you can save up to five percent in heating costs for every degree you lower your thermostat between 60 and 70 degrees. With AC, you can save 10 percent a year by setting your temperature to 10 to 15 degrees higher for just eight hours each day (like when we are at work, school or running errands. This is especially important when we go on vacation). The US Department of Energy recommends aiming for an indoor temperature of 78 degrees when you’re at home. You can also open windows at night and close them in the morning to help cool things down naturally. A ceiling fan, another great option, uses less power to help keep a room cool.
Turn the lights off when you leave a room
One of the easiest habits to teach children is to turn off a light when he or she leaves a room. Just like how to talk our children through putting on shoes, we can say, “we’re leaving your bedroom now, and we always turn off the light.” This is such a simple and easy thing to do that there are no excuses to forget about it. Even better, if possible, use natural lighting and avoid lights on during the day. Even with cost-saving LED light bulbs, this is still an old-school, easy tactic to save money and reduce our carbon footprint.
As mothers, we are always facing constant unrealistic expectations, especially in the perfect world of social media. And if you ask me, there are far too many guides for how-to-parent – we are all doing our best, and we’re doing great at it! We need to give ourselves grace while acknowledging that sometimes the best ways to reach our goals is to take baby steps, and slowly over time, we will see the results of our commitment.
At the end of the day, we all want our children to grow up with the values that are important to us. We want them to be responsible citizens not just in our communities but for our planet, too. We can start by showing and teaching them one eco-friendly habit at a time and continuing to educate ourselves on effective practices.