How to Teach Kids About the Environment 

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. 

Teach children about recycling.

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.) 

Teach kids about littering.

Teach your kids that it’s not cool to be a “litter-bug.” When you go to the beach or the park, you can teach your kid about littering by having a race to see how many pieces of paper they can pick up in 2 minutes (supervise this activity to make sure the trash is “regular trash” like paper, nothing sharp or disgusting). Of course, have the hand sanitizer ready for a good cleaning as soon as you’re done. Responsibility and sustainability…two lessons for one!

(Remind older kids that trash often ends up in unwanted places, like the ocean, and can be dangerous for animals: “Don’t be a chump, use the dump.”)

Teach environment conservation.

The easiest ways for kids to protect our planet are:

  • Turn off the water while brushing their teeth. (”Save some water for the other families who need it.”)
  • Turn lights off when leaving a room. (”Save some light for the other families who need it.”)

Taking care of the environment for kids can feel like endless nagging. Rather than nagging with reminders, “catch your kids being good.” Even if they only remember to do it one out of 10 times, toss them a praise for that. And, occasionally ask them to go all the way back to the room to flip the switch, they’ll quickly learn. (Check out my “gossiping” technique to really make your praise productive!) Some of the best ways to be sustainable with kids is in your own home.

Use visuals and stories to teach kids about the environment.

Luckily, lots of other parents have come up with lots of other great ideas! Check out kids' books about protecting the environment, like Seeds of Change or If Sharks Disappeared. Or use the internet to find photos that support your conversation or search for examples.

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

One super-perfect way to encourage enviro-excellence is around food. Over the past decade, organic has become much more available and less expensive. Companies like Thrive Market sell great organics for up to 50% off—direct to consumers! And, 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 EWG (Environmental Working Group). Use their guidelines to prioritize which foods you buy organic:

  • Clean Fifteen: 15 foods that are okay to eat when conventionally grown (they have the least pesticides)
  • Dirty Dozen: 12 foods that are best to buy organic (they have the most pesticides)

Avoid single-use containers, bags, and plastic wrap.

Swapping out plastic for more reusable and environmentally friendly materials can make a big difference—here’s how to use less plastic at home!  There are also some awesome alternatives to single-use plastic:

  1. Use reusable cloth totes that fold into backpacks or purses
  2. Use reusable containers or lunchboxes:
  1. There are smaller reusable fabric bags…so you don’t have to resort to disposable bags for snack time…available at local grocery stores and online (HealthNut Shop; The Good Planet Company)
  2. When reusable products aren’t an option (like for airplane trips where you don’t want to be stuck lugging empty containers), use waxed paper sandwich baggies instead of plastic ones, like these from LunchSkins. Extra benefit: They’re compostable and recyclable!
  3. Little kids frequently don’t finish their food. Instead of aluminum or plastic wrap, consider using beeswax fabric covers. (You can 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.” Those have been shown to be hormone-disrupting chemicals.
  4. As a special present, buy a reusable water bottle for your kids. Let them 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 preserve the planet for our little ones! And, if you can, donate to EWG or another national group that is working every day to protect the planet for our growing kids.

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.