Teaching kids about the environment is an important part of their education and also an important part of helping our planet!
You may think preschoolers are too young to learn about environmental conservation and sustainability. But it’s actually the perfect age. If you’ve ever sat and watched young children playing outside, you know how kids just seem to have an innate connection to nature. They’re fascinated by the clouds in the sky, the dandelions in a field, the bugs crawling in the dirt.
Environmental education for kids builds on their natural interest, encouraging their curiosity and helping them grow into adults who consider the environment in everything they do.
Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be! Here are five ways to teach preschoolers about the environment.
1. Spend Time Outside
It may seem obvious, but spending time outside is about more than just hanging out at the park. The park is a great place to start, but also explore the area around the park, treed areas, ponds, lakes – and of course your own backyard!
Follow your child around and see what they’re drawn too. Kids love picking up things like rocks, sticks, leaves and flowers. When they show them to you, talk about where the items come from and why they’re an important part of nature.
You don’t have to be an environmental expert to have these conversations. They can be as simple as chatting about how trees help clean our air, or how bees help grow our food.
Examine different rocks or leaves and talk about how they’re the same or different. The goal is to encourage your preschooler to engage with all of the wonderful things just outside your door.
2. Read Books About the Environment
Reading about the environment takes care of two learning goals at once. First, it encourages your preschooler to engage with books. Second, it helps teach them about pretty much any environmental topic you can think of.
Tree planting, green energy, recycling, organic farming, endangered animals, climate change – there’s a children’s book about all of them!
Aside from the various sustainability-related topics you can read about, also look for books that are about people who have done amazing things for the planet. The Tree Lady is a children’s book about Kate Sessions – a woman who helped turn desert-town San Diego into the tree-filled oasis it is today.
Make sure to talk to your preschooler about the things going on inside the book. Encourage them to ask questions – and ask questions yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised by their answers!
3. Make Your Home a Green Home
There are so many ways you can make your home a more eco-conscious space and the awesome part is that your preschooler can help!
- Make homemade cleaning supplies together out of natural items like baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar and then have your preschooler help “clean” the house.
- Create a recycling center and teach your child where to put paper, plastic, organics and garbage.
- Teach your preschooler the importance of turning off the faucet and the lights. Of course they’re going to forget sometimes, but that’s okay. Every time you remind them you’re reinforcing the idea that the daily things we do impact the planet.
4. Help Them Choose Eco-Conscious Toys
Just like us adults, kids are constantly bombarded with the idea that they need all the cool new things and they need them right now. And while it’s important children learn that they can’t have everything, it’s also important they learn they have the power to choose toys that are more friendly to the environment.
As birthdays, holidays and other special occasions approach, take note of the things your preschooler is asking for. If they want a new bike, tell them about all of the pre-loved bikes out there just waiting for a new home. Show your preschooler pictures of the secondhand bikes and watch how excited they become. Kids are great examples of the idea that it doesn’t matter if something isn’t new – it’s still going to be new to them!
From secondhand toys, to ones made out of recycled plastics or natural materials, there are tons of eco-friendly options out there. Browse stores and online shops with your preschooler and chat about what toys are made of and how long they’re likely to last.
Teaching young children they can be thoughtful in their choices sets them up to grow into conscious buyers as adults.
5. Lead By Example
As with so many areas in teaching children, leading by example is your most powerful tool in inspiring them to be environmental stewards. If you’re just starting out on your green journey, let your preschooler see the small changes you make.
Buy reusable produce bags and skip the plastic when you’re at the grocery store. Walk or ride your bike instead of driving. Start a garden – even if it’s just a single planter to begin with.
If you’re already well on your way to living a more eco-conscious life – keep up the great work! It’s amazing all the small things young children pick up on.
Inspire your child to consider the environment in all they do and pretty soon they’ll be inspiring you!
Larissa is a former architectural technologist and current treehugger who runs the sustainable design blog Of Houses and Trees. She’s also a freelance writer, dance instructor and all-around creative person. Larissa lives in Parkland County, Alberta, Canada on forty acres of rolling hills and trees with her husband, two kids and cat, Skinny.