So you want to get the whole family involved in conservation. Here’s how you can start. |

So you want to get the whole family involved in conservation. Here’s how you can start.

Local children Ali, Luca, Reina and Lynca participate in cleaning up trash along the Blue River earlier in June. Environmentalists recommend modeling behavior and encouraging kids to get involved in household conservation to create lifelong habits.
Jennifer Stoltzfus/Courtesy photo

For parents looking to instill environmentally friendly behaviors for their family, getting started may be easier said than done. However, resources are available to get children thinking about how their actions affect the environment.

Rachel Zerowin, community programs director at High Country Conservation Center, said as a mom, getting her children involved in conservation-friendly behavior when they are young has been important.

“That could be things like enrolling in the food scrap program to help kids understand how composting works, because they can be part of it,” Zerowin said. “They can get involved and separate their banana peels, their apple cores and anything from the dinner table. Then it’s an opportunity to engage with them and talk about why we are separating our food scraps and what happens to them. That’s one easy way to do it. Before you know it, they could be the ones wagging their finger at you or scolding you because you accidentally put a banana peel in the trash, which has happened at our house.”

Recycling, she said, could also become a family activity. 

“I’ve heard from so many parents who use the drop-off recycling centers and go into the recycling center like a family activity, and one that stays with them and their kids even as they get older,” she added.

The Environmental Protection Agency also has resources for parents through its Kids’ Corner. In the EPA’s Day in the Life of a Drop learning module, teachers or parents can teach children about watersheds and river basins. By the end of the lesson, students learn about how to converse water use and why it is important to use water efficiently.

“Ideally this concept will be conveyed in the context of the watersheds in which the students live to enhance understanding of the concept and connection to the places where students live,” the introduction to the Day in the Life of a Drop activity reads. 

The EPA also offers resources for how to talk to children about global climate change, green infrastructure and how to produce less waste. Zerowin said that the conservation center works with Summit County School District to provide a handful of courses for students, and it is also working with more summer camps for children’s programming.

“One of the things that our staff has anecdotally noticed is that we’re seeing some of the same kids from the school year to the summertime, and they’re remembering us,” she said. “They’re remembering things like how plastic is made and why we might want to use aluminum instead, and how we recycle things. I think for us, and the work that we do, it’s been really exciting to see the students make those connections and to prioritize and get excited about environmentalism and to truly become conservationists.”

The National Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting the environment, recommends building an appreciation for nature and then explaining why environmentally friendly behaviors are important.   

“In grade school, children understand cause and effect, so it’s a good time to talk about what kids can do to decrease carbon emissions, with your help. Maybe this is biking or carpooling to school, switching out incandescent lightbulbs for energy-efficient LEDs or setting up a home composting system,” the council’s guide to explaining conservation to children reads. “One note of caution, though: Kids of all ages notice adult inconsistencies. If we talk about the importance of recycling but don’t cut single-use items out of our daily routine, we may face some tough questions.”

Just like getting children involved in everyday activities, Zerowin said that modeling good behavior is possibly more important, especially when children are younger. 

“That could be as simple as bringing your reusable bags, and bringing your reusable mug every time,” Zerowin said. “Maybe it’s putting one child in charge of carrying the reusable bags from the car to the grocery store. It could be turning off the lights when you’re not in a room combining trips. If you’re going for a hike, you take the bus to the trailhead instead of driving. Modeling these things is so important.”

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