When you’re a parent, you’re consumed with so many “must-do’s” to take care of your kids’ health and development that it’s easy to forget about helping them learn to take care of Mother Nature. But, it’s actually pretty easy. And remember, a happy Earth means healthy kids. 

School kids on sorting recyclables.

Teach your little ones how to figure out which items are “re-do's” (recyclable) and what’s a “bye-bye” (not recyclable). Make sorting the recycling a household chore worthy of a gold star or “check on the hand.” (See The Happiest Toddler on the Block for ideas on boosting good behavior.) 

Make trash pickup playful.

Teach your kids that it’s not cool to be a “litter-bug.” Remind children that trash often ends up in unwanted places, like the ocean, and can be dangerous for animals. Then, the next time you head to the beach or the park, do it with trash bags tow! Before your kiddo hits the swings or surf, have a race to see how many pieces of paper they can pick up in 2 minutes (supervise to make sure the trash is “regular trash” like paper, nothing sharp or gross). Have hand sanitizer ready for a good scrubbing as soon as you’re done. Responsibility and sustainability…two lessons in one!

Catch kids conserving.

Some of the best ways to be sustainable with kids is in your own home. And the easiest ways for kids to protect our planet are:

  • Turn lights off when leaving a room. (“Save some light for the other families who need it.”)

But rather than focusing your energy on nagging with reminders, catch your kids being good! Even if they only remember to do it one out of 10 times, toss them praise. And occasionally ask them to go all the way back to the room to flip the switch off, too…they’ll quickly learn.  (Check out my “gossiping” technique to really make your praise productive!) 

Share stories to teach kids about the environment.

Don't know what to say? Luckily, lots of other parents have come up with lots of other great ideas! Check out kids' books about protecting the environment. A few to peruse...

Teach children the importance of buying organic and local when possible.

One way to encourage enviro-excellence is around food, and organic food helps Mother Earth by using fewer pesticides and less energy and creating less soil erosion and pollution. Over the past decade, organic has become much more available and less expensive. For example, companies like Thrive Market sell great organics for up to 50% off—direct to consumers. Even Walmart now has tons of organic food!

No need to be a fanatic, but it’s smart to do what you can when/where you can. A great place to start is with a visit to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) website. Use their guidelines to prioritize which foods you buy organic:

  • Clean Fifteen: The EWG highlights 15 foods that are okay to eat when conventionally grown because they have the least amount of pesticides.
  • Dirty Dozen: The group also notes the 12 foods that are best to buy organic because they have the most pesticides.

Model plastic minimalism.

It’s no secret that swapping out single-use plastic for more sustainable products can go a long way to help the planet. If your little one grows up grows up with this as a norm, it’ll be second nature when they’re older! (Psst! Here’s how to use less plastic at home!) There are also some awesome alternatives to single-use plastic:

  1. Reusable cloth totes: Many fold into backpacks or purses.

  2. Reusable containers or lunchboxes: Check out these from Planet Box or these cuties from HealthNut Shop that are made of rice husk. And SoYoung non-toxic linen cooler bags are available on Amazon (and The Good Planet Company online and in Canada).

  1. Smaller reusable fabric snack bags: These make it so you don’t have to resort to disposable bags for snack time.

  2. Waxed paper sandwich baggies: When reusable products aren’t an option—like for airplane trips where you don’t want to be stuck lugging empty containers—consider waxed paper baggies, like these from LunchSkins. They’re compostable and recyclable!

  3. Beeswax fabric covers for leftovers: Instead of aluminum or plastic wrap, try these. You can even make your own with this tutorial—a fun DIY activity to do with your kids! If you have to use plastic wrap, make sure it does not contain vinyl or PVC, which have been shown to be hormone-disrupting chemicals.

  4. Reusable water bottles: Let your littles pick out their own, and write their name on it or go all out and decorate it. It’s best to buy only stainless steel or glass (silicone-wrapped for safety), not plastic. Added bonus: You’ll save money when you no longer have to buy overpriced water on outings.

Final Thoughts on Teaching Kids About the Environment

It’s no secret that the environment is in trouble. We’ve already started to see the devastating effects of climate change. It’s so important as parents to take care of Mother Earth as much as we can and teach our little ones how to preserve the planet! And, if you can, donate to EWG or another national group that is working every day to protect the planet for our growing kids.


More on the Environment:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.