Ways To Encourage Pro-Environmental Behaviour In Children
1. Make Recycling Fun
You might wonder how something as simple and mundane as throwing objects in a recycling bin can be fun. Well, toddlers and young children love to sort things by size, colour, shape - you name it!
Start by making different recycling 'stations'. You could designate one bin to paper, one to plastic, one to aluminum, etc. Once you empty those bins, you can change the stations by designating one bin to white objects and one to colourful objects. The next time, switch it up again!
Some other ideas for sorting:
- Have separate bins for different sizes of items (small, medium, large)
- Sort based on items with pictures versus items with no pictures (or create more bins and sort by different types of pictures; food pictures, pictures with people, abstract images, etc.)
- Have bins for shapes (rectangle, square, circular, etc.)
If you're planning on returning bottles, make sure to include your child in the process. Give them their own tray and designate a type of container to them (ex. "Put all of the juice boxes in your tray") and let them sift through the other types of bottles/cans to find their designated item.
The idea is to introduce them to the act of recycling at a young age. If it's something that's normal and appealing, it's something they'll be more likely to keep up with as they grow older.
2. Spend Time Outside
This sounds really simple, and it really is! People actually form emotional attachments to things in nature, be it a specific tree, a river, a swamp or a field. Forming attachments to nature will motivate your child intrinsically. Intrinsic motivation means that behaviour comes from within oneself, and is associated with much higher levels of achieving goals specific to that motivation.
So, what does that mean for pro-environmental behaviour? It means that if your child is motivated by their own love of the environment, they are more likely engage in pro-environmental behaviours long-term.
So let them explore the outdoors, let them be inspired by their surroundings, let them learn the immense comfort and exquisiteness that nature has to offer them. Allow their favourite memories to take place outside, let nature be their place for deep thought, and let it calm them when the world inside is much too busy. Nature will become a friend, a confidante, and a part of who they are. If it is something deeply rooted in their identity, they will be sure to protect it.
3. Buy Sustainable Toys
Every child loves a good toy. Try making sure that a bulk of your child's toys are environmentally friendly. Sure, a loud plastic toy that lights up and talks to your child is exciting and certainly has its place. But keeping those toys to a minimum will be beneficial for both the environment and your child's imagination. There are a number of stores that focus entirely on selling eco-friendly toys and products. One of my favourites is bynature.ca, but obviously depending on your location, you might be interested in searching for a store that has more convenient shipping, or one that's close enough to visit in person.
You'll find that a good number of the options are wooden toys. Wooden toys are often more aesthetically pleasing and more durable than plastic toys, and the paints used are often non-toxic.
4. Read Your Child Books About The Importance Of Caring For The Environment
Yes, there are actually a whole bunch of books that are geared towards teaching young children about caring for the environment! How cool is that?
- Charlie and Lola: We are Extremely Very Good Recyclers
- The Green Mother Goose: Saving the World One Rhyme at a Time
- The EARTH Book
- Planet Of The Bears: A Story About Looking After Our World
- Why Should I Protect Nature?
5. Do A Litter Cleanup
You'll probably be able to find organized litter cleanups in your area, and it's always a good opportunity to get out into the community and contribute to a good cause. However, you can do your own litter cleanups! If you're used to going for leisurely walks with the kids, you can turn some of those walks into litter cleanups. We try to do once every week, but you can choose how often you'd like to do them with your family, be it once a month or every day!
They work similarly to recycling in that you can make it fun by giving them specific tasks or items to sort. Some ideas:
- Ask your child to pick up only one particular kind of common litter (napkins, wrappers, cups, etc.)
- Give your child a certain colour of litter (pick up all white litter, pick up all red litter, etc.)
- If your child is old enough to grasp the concept of BINGO, you can make a Litter Bingo sheet. You can have a square for a napkin, a cup, a straw, a candy wrapper, a receipt, a plastic bag, etc.
Obviously, use your common sense and ensure that your child is not picking up potentially dangerous items or cigarette butts. You can stick a pair of gloves on your child if you're worried about them getting their hands on something unpleasant.
Did your parents encourage you to engage in pro-environmental behaviour?
6. Model Pro-Environmental Behaviour
Studies have shown that modeling behaviour is the most effective way to promote behaviour change in others, especially when it comes to pro-environmental behaviour!
The best thing you can do to encourage your kiddos to respect the environment and live a sustainable lifestyle is to do it yourself. They will watch you, and they will pick up on your behaviour. You can remind them a million times to turn off the lights when they leave a room, but if you don't do it yourself, it's probably not going to stick. Families fall into routines and those routines carry on into your children's adult lives. I'm sure you can all think of something your parents did with you that you then went on to do with your own children. So do your best to make sure that your children will grow up having pro-environmental behaviour as a norm, and hopefully it will continue to be the norm when they start their own family one day.