With an ever-increasing awareness of minimizing our impact on the planet and its limited resources, it makes sense to teach even the youngest children to live as "green" a life as possible.
For her part, Phoenix mom, Jennifer Cook, says she leads by example. Even her 3 and 5-year-olds ask, "recycle or trash" before throwing something away, Cook notes. The family also uses a compost pile and reusable bags for shopping.
"With my kids, because I do it, they do it," Cook says. "They just think that's the way it is and they don't understand there are people that just throw everything away."
Medford mom America Fucci, a moderator for the RVR (Rogue Valley Recyclers web group), encourages her kids to find used items instead of buying new ones and to never throw away a useful item.
"They recycle their toys and clothes for the Sparrow Club at their schools," Fucci notes.
"And when we go through their clothes, if it's not something that can't be posted on RVR, meaning it has a stain on it or is torn, it can be used as a shop rag or to wash windows."
For the most part, few things can't be reused or conserved. Kids, say Fucci and Cook, learn faster than even parents may realize. And the sooner they learn, the better.
1. First and foremost, talk about the impact adults and children have on the planet and ways they can cut back. Visit www.kidsfootprint.org/index.html to calculate a child's carbon "footprint" based on what they had for breakfast, toys they play with and how they get to school. Try www.gogreeninitiative.org to learn how kids can help out at school.
2. Set up a recycling center at home and teach kids to use it for everything from plastic bags and glass jars to soda and water bottles and milk jugs.
3. Share old toys and clothes. Have kids sort through closets and toy boxes for items they've outgrown and let them choose a charity or younger relative or friend to pass them along to. Try not to buy any new toys or clothes without donating something old.
4. Conserve water. Find fun ways to shorten showers (use a certain song or a timer) and encourage kids not to let the water run when brushing their teeth.
5. Visit local growers markets to buy locally grown and organic foods. Talk about the benefits of not using pesticides and how buying locally grown food cuts down on resources wasted to import food from elsewhere. Another alternative — with the help of your kids — grow a garden and use kitchen scraps to create fertilizer in a compost pile.
6. Shop for sustainable products. Phoenix Organics owner and store manager Ajit Singh talks to his 3-year-old daily about products made from recycled materials (kid-friendly examples may include using recycled paper supplies for school) and about the family's car, a gas-electric hybrid.
7. Save electricity. Encourage kids to turn off lights they're not using, open a window instead of using air conditioning and unplug mp3, cell phone and other gadget chargers when not in use.
8. Say no to plastic. Reuse excess bags when shopping — especially when buying shoes that come in a box — and take reusable shopping bags to the store.
9. Talk about transportation's impact on the environment and take the kids for a bike ride or walk to visit a neighbor, visit a nearby store or go to school.
10. Finally, read books — used or borrowed from the library vs. new — that touch on environmental issues. Dr. Seuss's The Lorax and Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree are great for young readers. Older readers might enjoy 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by The EarthWorks Group.
Bottom line? Think outside the box and use teachable opportunities to engage kids in caring about the planet at home, at school and in their community.
"We're always looking for new ways to recycle anything we have that can be reused in some way," says Fucci. "It's the best way for the environment; sometimes it helps someone in need and it makes our family feel like we've given back to the community and to Mother Earth."