40 Ways to Grow a Green Kid

Living a green life isn’t just for adults. The next generation can be trained from a young age to be good stewards of the earth and to live a sustainable lifestyle. But what exactly can a preschooler do? Or a 12 year-old? Read on for 40 ways that you can encourage your child to not only reduce, re-use and recycle, but enjoy it.

  1. Are your recycle bins in the garage or the side of the house? A preschooler can run that plastic jug or aluminum can out there for you. To encourage him in this chore, take the cans to the scrap yard and let him keep the money you get for them.
  2. A preschooler can also run the scrap bucket out to the compost bin after supper each evening.
  3. Show your small child how to plant seeds in a flower pot. This will get him started in gardening from an early age.
  4. Kids love things we find repulsive, like worms. An elementary-aged child can start a worm bed. He can relocate the worms to the garden or flower beds in spring, or sell them as fishing bait. Wal-Mart sells worm bed kits in the sporting goods department.
  5. Give your child a garden row or raised bed to tend. If she’s successful in growing any produce, buy it from her.
  6. If you do not have the space for a garden, encourage your kids to plant tomatoes, herbs or greens in pots on the patio.
  7. Save the seeds from the heirloom varieties you grow in your garden. Have your kids label and store them for the next planting season.
  8. Teach him to grow sprouts. Eat them regularly on your salads and sandwiches. Make growing them the child’s responsibility.
  9. Order seed catalogs. When they come in the mail, have your children use them for a scavenger hunt in the produce section of the grocery store. (Can you find Brussels sprouts?)
  10. Occasionally try a new fruit or vegetable from the produce section of the supermarket. A few suggestions are pomegranate, plantain, coconut, tomatillo or papaya.
  11. Study the food in the supermarket together, asking the following questions. What are the ingredients? Are they natural? Check out the packaging. Does the large box of crackers contain four smaller boxes in which you find individually wrapped packages? How could you more ecologically package the crackers? What are you going to do with all that trash?
  12. Turn your pet food bags into shopping bags. A child old enough to use a sewing machine can handle this project and once the family has enough, she can sew more to sell.
  13. Keep backyard chickens. Depending on your child’s age, have him collect eggs or care for them entirely. Let him sell the excess to neighbors.
  14. Have a rooster? Buy an incubator and introduce your child to hatching her own chicks. If you don’t need to grow your flock, she can sell them to make extra money.
  15. Live where you can’t have farm animals? Take your preschoolers to the park to feed the ducks. Better yet, visit a farm.
  16. If you do not grow your own food, buy as much as possible locally. Visit the farm, and the cow, that gives you milk. Pick your own berries, pumpkins or melons.
  17. Subscribe to a Community Supported Agricultural share. To find a CSA farm in your area, visit http://www.localharvest.org/csa/.
  18. Visit the farmers market together. Listen to the conversations. Ask the farmers questions.
  19. Throw out the dry cleaners. Talk to your kids about toxic chemicals and involve them in making your own laundry soap, tub and shower cleaner, and personal care products.
  20. Buy him field guides for birds, wildflowers, rocks, or whatever interests him. Encourage him in his identification activities.
  21. Plant a terrarium.
  22. Build birdfeeders and watch the birds. Start a bird journal. Participate in the Christmas Bird Count by the National Audubon Society.
  23. Encourage nature journaling. A great resource for this is the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna B. Comstock.
  24. Plant a butterfly garden.
  25. Keep a butterfly chrysalis in a jar, watch it emerge, then release it.
  26. Rather than cut flowers that die in a week, gift an African violet on special occasions.
  27. Spend as much time outside as possible. Ride bikes, hike trails, commune with nature.
  28. Replace the screen with books, tools, pets, and other hands-on, earth-friendly activities.
  29. Go camping—in a tent, away from cell service, without a stove, electricity, or other modern conveniences.
  30. Learn an up-cycle craft. Create purses from old blue jeans, rugs from plastic grocery bags, or mosaics from broken pottery.
  31. Take a field trip to your local landfill. Discuss the waste you see and explain to your child the environmental impact of a throw-away society.
  32. Teach your older child to take apart old appliances or computers for the scrap metal. Take him to the scrap yard to turn it in for profit.
  33. Turn off the lights and the water. Be an example and teach the kids to do likewise.
  34. Buy energy-efficient light bulbs and explain the difference to your children.
  35. Install rain barrels. Teach the kids to use that water for watering the garden and flower beds outside.
  36. Install solar panels. You don’t have to power your entire house with them. Growing up, my parents installed a solar panel just to run the hot water heater. The power company bought back any excess energy the panel created.
  37. Use a clothesline. A child can hang out the wash before he is tall enough by standing on a stool. Show him how wonderful the clothes smell when he takes them down to fold.
  38. Walk to the store. If you live in an urban area, don’t pile the kids in the car to drive a couple blocks down the road. Enjoy the walk together.
  39. Participate in trash pick-up activities with local organizations like the 4-H and Boy or Girl Scouts.
  40. Subscribe to a children’s nature magazine like Nature Friend, Zoobooks or Ranger Rick.

Freelance journalist Carol J. Alexander specializes in all things home. Her work has appeared in BackHome Magazine, Grit, Hobby Farms, and in over 50 regional parenting magazines. She is also the author of Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-ahead Meals.


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