April 22, 2017

Teaching Our Kids to Give a Damn—on Earth Day (& every Day).

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” ~ Native American Proverb


Today is Earth Day, but the real lesson we need to teach our children is how to treat each day as a celebration of our planet.

Society is different now; most children seem to play inside on their tablets rather than outside in the mud. We don’t take the time to plant things with our children or to point out the Big Dipper—somehow a screen has taken the place of the world.

I’m not knocking technology, I’m just implying that our children still need to play like children in order to grow up and be of the most benefit for the world—unfortunately, there’s not an app for that.

The only way for children to grow up and care about our world is to be shown why they should care. This cannot be reserved for one day of the year just because it’s labeled as such. It’s a daily commitment as parents and teachers.

It begins the moment our children are born with what we choose to expose them to. It’s in showing them how to experience the beauty of the world around us, noticing the wonderful simplicity it possesses. Raising children isn’t just about teaching them right from wrong; it’s about teaching them how to ask the right kind of questions.

Recently, my girls and I vacationed in South Carolina. One evening we went to the beach and in the darkness we watched Venus rise above the ocean as we raced along the shoreline and the incoming waves. We chased each other under the stars and then collapsed on the sand to look at the scattering of constellations. We listened to the evening call of the whip-poor-will and counted how many different birds we could see flying over the marshland of the low country.

When I watch my girls’ eyes, I see them witness the beauty of the world around them, and then I hear the questions they begin asking in response. Like, “Why are they cutting down trees to build more houses?” or, “Don’t they know by building there they are ruining the homes of animals?” Right now, these are questions from children who don’t understand the complexity of economics. I like it that way.

I want them to see some issues as black-and-white, especially those that involve our environment and taking care of the world around us. I want them to see things simply, to feel injustice in their hearts and be moved strongly enough to take action to correct them.

We won’t be able to be with our children every day as they get older, reminding them to focus on what matters most, so while they are in our direct care it’s our job to spend time teaching them about the things that matter to us. We can only hope that one day what matters to them will be the same thing.

Here are some ideas for teaching children how to give a damn about the environment:

Recycle it!

Have children help you recycle, but also tell them why you do. Bring them to a recycling center and explain what happens after we drop it off, and how to look for products made from recyclable materials.


Challenge kids to collect cans and then turn them in for the deposit—not only are they recycling, but they also are able to make some money from it too! Parents can also establish the expectation that kids save all money earned from cans and then they can choose to donate it to the charity of their choice.

Dig in!

Plant a garden with your children, let them get dirty, teach them about what it means to eat local and why it’s not only a better choice for our health but also for our environment.

Go meat free!

Whether or not we want to become a vegetarian, we can all choose to go meat free for a week at a time. We can talk about why it’s better for the environment and our bodies when we abstain from eating meat or other animal products.

Kick ‘em outside!

Tell kids to go play outside. Play with them, but also let them play by themselves. Make them go out in the morning after breakfast and let them go out after dinner until it gets dark enough to catch fireflies.

Pitch in!

Participate in a beach, river, or park clean up to help show children how littering and pollution affects everyone. Talk with them about how different types of pollution can affect sea life, like balloons and the plastic rings used to keep six packs of cans together. Show your children how these items are hurtful, and they’ll be more likely to want to help change things.

Talk to them.

One of the biggest factors in kids learning to care is hearing us, as adults, talk about the environment with them. We sometimes think they are too young, that they don’t understand what it means when we say oil spill, or that a beach is closed due to bacteria from runoff. Yet the reality is that our children will understand what we teach themIf we don’t talk to them about these issues, showing them why they matter, then when they grow up they won’t believe that they do.

Earth Day isn’t just about making a cute planter out of a recyclable container; it’s about teaching our kids to actually give a damn.

It’s about instilling in our children a passion for protecting the world around them.

Every single day.




Author: Kate Rose

Image: Author’s own

Editor: Danielle Beutell

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