Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Greening the Kids

A couple of weeks ago, son No. 1 picked up some trash on our street and dropped it in a neighbor's garbage can on the way home. "That's one less piece of trash in the world, Mommy," he said.

This is the same child who's been known to roam the park handing me the trash he's picked up. When he was still a toddler, he thought it his duty to clean up a rest stop along the New Jersey turnpike, much to our dismay. After he went on a trip to the recycling center, he asked what happened to the non-recyclable trash and then wanted a detailed explanation of what a landfill is.

Over the years, I've encouraged this love of nature. We grow vegetables from seeds and we stop to watch butterflies and birds when we're out walking. We spent a good portion of Saturday keeping track of a praying mantis in our yard. When trees fall, we talk about planting new ones. In Maine, we spent hours roaming tide pools finding mussels, periwinkles and crabs. But some of the wildlife of husband's youth eluded us: No starfish and only two sea urchin shells.

The landscape, it is a-changin'. If global warming continues at the rate scientists have forecast, the world will be a much different place when our kids are 50. And so, I encourage environmental consciousness. But what else can you do without scaring kids that their world is disintegrating? What do you do to teach your children about the environment around them?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  September 4, 2007; 10:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
Previous: How Clean Is Your House? | Next: Child Diagnosis 101


We live in a community where recycling is expected, encouraged, and rewarded. Garbage bins have reminders that no plastic bottles are allowed; there are separate bins for paper, plastic, metal, white glass, and colored glass; and we actually get money back for many kids of bottles.

My 3 year old knows what recycling is and often helps me do it and I'm thrilled. I know it's only one piece of the puzzle, but it's a good place to start.

Posted by: viennamom | September 4, 2007 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Rather than scaring your kids, I think it is empowering them. To teach them that even though they are small their efforts can make a real impact on the world around them. It also lets them know that they are in part responsible for their world as well. Responsiblity and empowerment are things that little kids especially, don't get a lot of. Great place to start.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | September 4, 2007 9:27 AM | Report abuse

So why can't your kid pick up junk and accumulated debris around your house? (Ref. Friday's blog.)

Posted by: Anonymous | September 4, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I have a family policy: if you go to the beach (park, wherever), you have to pick up and properly dispose of a set amount of trash before you can play.

Posted by: Kate | September 4, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Don't let them them become air conditioned city kids! That means you too. Take them hiking. Have them join cub scouts/boy scouts. Take them camping. Go down a creek in a canoe. Go to a pond and watch for turtles. Listen to birds, frogs, and crickets. Do these things and do them often. It disturbs me to see 'clean' kids who prefer the inside of a house. Let 'em get dirty crossing to the other side of a small creek! To me, cultivating a love of the outdoors will naturally lead to being a steward of it.

Posted by: nealbscott | September 4, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Do you do anything other than encourage a love of nature and pick up the random piece of trash off the ground?

I find it interesting that you wrote a blog entry about saving the environment but didn't offer any solutions or even the things that your family does to help with this movement.

Posted by: to Stacey | September 4, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I teach my son the basic science that will help him understand environmental issues. Holding a BS and MS in environmental science, I can say that environmentalism requires a knowledge of physics, biology, chemistry and engineering. My son is only 4, but he has a basic understanding of the hydrological cycle, the carbon cycle, the biology of cells, plants, and animals, and an understand of resource use. I think working into the every day little conversations you have about where "stuff" comes from, or a discussion when you stop at the gas station about what's really going on when you fill the car up, or actually growing garden veggies (which has increased his veggie consumption) all work well. You can avoid scary, harsh reality topics, but still discuss how the rain water in your yard makes it to the Chesapeake Bay. Create the foundation, so they can understand their changing world.

Posted by: DJ Monet | September 4, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

When my daughter came home from school last week and got freaked out about how we are all gonna die from global warming, I told her she could help save the planet if she wanted to. So I gave her my empty beer bottles to throw away in the recycling bin outside as I finished them instead of tossing them in the kitchen trash like I usually do.

It took less than a single case of beer before she got sick of saving the planet. Oh well, maybe she won't grow up to be a chump.

Posted by: West Virginia Boy | September 4, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I think that like most things, leading by example is the best way to teach children environmentalism.

What we do:

We try to drive less. We walk to the store, to school, to the pool, etc., when we can. Take the bus downtown. Bike. We don't drive gas guzzlers.

Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in our home and turn off things when they're not being used. Don't leave the computer on at night. Turn the monitor off if you're stepping away for a short period. Conserve water by not letting the water run and limiting showers to reasonable amounts.

We recycle - everything we can. Most of it is curbside but some things aren't (styrofoam and plastic bags) and I have to take them someplace that does recycle them (of course, combining trips so I'm not using gas just to recycle!) When we're away from home and there isn't recycling available, we take it home with us rather than throw it in the garbage (if possible.)
We take re-usable containers to a store that reuses them.

Try to limit what we buy new regarding clothing and toys. The more things are reused, the less that will have to be made, and the less impact on the environment.

Never throw away ANYTHING that can be used by someone else. This includes toys, clothing, baby gear, household items - but also things you might consider garbage like plastic buckets or old carpeting or whatever. Use a Freecycle group or just put it out by your curb with "free" on it -you never know.

But the best way, in my opinion, to be environmentally conscious is to reduce what you use. Don't buy your kids 4000 toys and outfits a year and talk to your families and friends about it so they are on board with your plan. Re-use school supplies instead of buying everything new. Buy in bulk as to reduce packaging of foods. In short, practice simplicity the best you can for your family.

Posted by: oldmom | September 4, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Being "green" is not about doom or gloom ... it's about understanding your impact on the world, and how your positive actions can yield positive results.

Posted by: Beth | September 4, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

To Stacey: We recycle. We've switched out many of our light bulbs to fluorescents -- there are some I can't stand to change because I have a harder time seeing with the fluorescents. We hand clothes and toys down to friends who can use them. We try to freecycle items that we no longer want. And we've been planting native trees and removing invasives from our yard. Definitely not as much as some other folks, but it's a start.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | September 4, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Our schools do a fairly good job of educating the kids about the role they can play. A couple of years ago, we bought t-shirts to raise $$ to save an acre of rain forest. We recycle our cardboard/plastic bags/aluminum cans/milk jugs. We talk about things that deplete the ozone. Just this past weekend at a softball tournament we picked up trash. I think it's easy to incorporate these things into everyday life without scaring them.

Posted by: momof3boys | September 4, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"there are some I can't stand to change because I have a harder time seeing with the fluorescents."

Explain, Ms. Garfinkle. Compact fluorescents are brighter. How & what are you not seeing?

Posted by: JVa | September 4, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I hate to post a link to another paper and not be on topic, but the Post has missed the ball on this story. It relates back to the discussion of the massive toy recall for lead paint, and how someone was saying the CPSC was underfunded and losing people. Anyway, this is interesting for anyone following children's safety

Posted by: NYT | September 4, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Stacey re: compact fluorescents. It's not that they're dimmer. The light seems to me to be of a different quality that feels harsher and less natural, hence harder to read. Other people certainly swear by them, so I realize I'm idiosyncratic here.

Posted by: Tom T. | September 4, 2007 2:35 PM | Report abuse

As a dad, I'm very interested in my daughter growing up green. I agree with "oldmom" that setting a good example is very important. Perhaps we as parents can examine our own choices that do, or do not lead to sustainability.

In addition, experiencing the beauty and value of our natural environment as our kids grow instills this as an important value.

Posted by: Crispin Pierce | September 4, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Information about CFL's and the importance of recycling them:

Posted by: oldmom | September 4, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse

WHAT are they teaching your kids in school that make them petrified of (supposed) global warming? There's little science there - WHAT are they teaching 4 YOs?????

(I am not disputing that the earth is possibly getting warmer. But there's no proof that *we* are doing that - how could there be? 30 years ago everyone thought the earth was cooling down - we just don't have enough data. It's kinda arrogant to think that we have that much control over the environment. Of course the earth will still be around - humans, however, may or may not be. In any event, I think recycling and conserving, etc are the right thing to do, and we are definitely very wasteful as a society).

Posted by: atlmom | September 4, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

atlmom, there's little doubt that the climate is warming; other than within the current US administration, that is.

The issue is just who or what is causing the warming; I read just this weekend that uncontrolled coal fires in China and India are pumping as much carbon dioxide into the air as all the vehicles in the US, for example.

While the "we're all going to die" attitude the little girl had from being told about global warming is certainly misplaced, putting hands to ears and closing eyes and shouting "nyah nyah nyah" to try and ignore the data is just as misplaced.

Posted by: John L | September 4, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

altmom wrote:

"I am not disputing that the earth is possibly getting warmer. But there's no proof that *we* are doing that - how could there be? 30 years ago everyone thought the earth was cooling down - we just don't have enough data. It's kinda arrogant to think that we have that much control over the environment."

I hear this argument a lot. My issue with the first two sentences is that they are dismissive of the problems associated with global warming. Who cares if we caused it? It's still going to cause all sorts of weather, water distribution, and food problems that need to be dealt with. And to properly deal with those problems, we need to be able to talk openly about their source. As you say, even if we didn't cause it, conservation and environmental responsibility are still good things to engage in. You know that your body is a closed system: if you put just beer and beef into it, you're blood stream is going to be pretty clogged, and your body unhealthy. Likewise, if you drink 5 plastic water bottles a day and just throw them out, pretty soon the earth will be clogged with plastic water bottles and unable to support a wide variety of lifeforms. This theory is also present in free-market capitalism. That is, it's best to have a wide variety of producers (read: lifeforms) so that their is quality competition and product efficiency (read: so that those lifeforms can occupy different niches and make the environment more stable). I digress.

My other issue is with your third statement. I would reverse its meaning. Consider this: A very large portion of the earth is devoted to maintaining the lives of one species; humans. Don't you think it rather arrogant to assume that we can consume and pollute willy nilly without impacting the environment of the earth (i.e. the aforementioned closed system principles)?

thank you

Posted by: ScoutOut | September 4, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

My friend's daughter started a small green revolution at her school by asking, "Where's the composting?" When informed there was none, her silent, shocked face actually shamed the teacher into writing a note home about it. Gem's persistence in taking home her compostable lunch scraps every day has resulted in this school in an upstate, rural farming community in NY instituting its own composting and recycling program for the whole school.

Whatever we teach our kids is "normal" is normal for them. If we make the three r's - reduce, reuse, recycle - a way of life, they will BE normal to our kids.

Posted by: Lisa Marie | September 4, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I hear this argument a lot. My issue with the first two sentences is that they are dismissive of the problems associated with global warming. Who cares if we caused it?

I care because then we start getting policies that cause people their jobs, decrease our standard of living etc. I despise the idea that the US needs to do this or that and CHINA and INDIA and other environmental disaster nations get off scot free because of america haters. That's why.

Posted by: pATRICK | September 4, 2007 4:41 PM | Report abuse

NYT: Tx for posting the Times link to the CPSC story. Everyone here should always feel free to point out good stories regardless of where they originate.

Posted by: onbalance | September 4, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse


I care, too. I use that argument to lead people who adamantly argue that we're not causing global warming to the implied conclusion of their argument -- which is, "since we're not causing it, it's not a problem." This is, of course, very short sighted.

Yeah, China and India are really big polluters, but in a lot of cases that's because American corporations have moved there to take advantage of their lax laws. Exhibit A: Union Carbide and the terrible accident at Bhopal, India. America is in a unique position, though. We have the highest pollution rate per individual (exclusive of businesses, etc.) and therefore each American citizen is in a better position to create change than in other countries. We can choose to cut back on our personal energy uses and make a bigger difference that way than any individual in India or China can.

Also, I would just like to say that America didn't become a despised nation for no reason. As I'm sure you know.

Posted by: ScoutOut | September 4, 2007 7:12 PM | Report abuse

the haters are the loonie lefties who drive prius' and want to talk about carbon credits while china and india pollute the hell out of the earth. The america haters wring their hands and blame everything on america, like SCOUTOUT did, and then excuse foreign governments from any responsibility. Good for Bush for not caving in on KYOTO.

Posted by: pATRICK | September 4, 2007 10:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't really understand the backlash against trying to curb global warming. I think you should do what you can to cut down on carbon emissions. The science is clear that it is causing global warming. So drive a car with better gas mileage, take mass transportation, consume less, do your part. This is the parenting blog, and you owe it to your children to bequeath them a world that is as good if not better than the one you inherited from your own parents.

For those of you that are still skeptical of global warming or that global warming is caused by Man, what are you going to tell your children if you are wrong? And what are the costs to you for trying to do your part? A smaller car? A Honda civic instead of a hummer? boo hoo.

In any case, by the time we finish debating global warming, its effects will be obvious and irreversible, if they are not already.

Posted by: Jim | September 5, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company