How to teach your kids to care about the environment

When our kids were younger we took them to the local cinema to watch Al Gore’s 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth (1). This was quite different-than-usual viewing for our 12 and 9 year-olds and we were a little unsure as to how they would react. Would they understand the often challenging environmental concepts covered in the film? How would they respond to the film’s message of the importance of being aware of the perils of global warming and environmental degradation on our planet?

We needn’t have been concerned; both boys left the cinema impressed with the need to preserve the Earth and came away with a better idea of climate change and its effects on our precious world. Since that time, and through the fine efforts of their teachers, they have grown into environmentally-aware young adults fully understanding of their responsibilities to our planet.

Our children both grew up in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, a wilderness region that prides itself on being a “City in a National Park”. The concept of global warming is very real in the region, it being one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the country, if not the world. Being environmentally aware comes as second nature to the residents.

Wherever you live though, it’s important to talk to your kids about the environment. We are all shaped by the teachings of our parents, grandparents, teachers and friends. Who amongst us hasn’t learned a concept from Mum and Dad that has turned into a lifelong habit? This, of course, works both ways so don’t underestimate the power your example can have on your kids. In the same way, be gentle in your teachings about the environment — try not to insist or punish transgressions. Lead the way and you’ll find you raise adults who have a heightened awareness of the environment and an understanding of what we need to do to protect it for future generations.

Here are a few suggestions to help you set the right tone:

Set a good example

There’s not much point talking until you’re blue in the face about the benefits of alternative energy, cutting pollution, and caring for the environment if you don’t set a great example for the kids to follow. It’s the little things they notice, like recycling, composting, or simply switching off lights when you leave a room. Even caring for your garden as a productive space. Your actions will always speak louder than words and the young ones will take this onboard and into their own lives.

Encourage discussion

Conversation is sometimes described as a “lost art” in bringing up kids. In our grandparents’ day, “together” time was usually centred around the dinner table. These days meals are often taken in front of TV/computer/smartphone screens with little chat involved. Make yourself available for discussion with your children whenever you can. Be willing and able to answer any questions they may have about environmental issues, whether it be the cause of climate change or the effects of major ecological damage, such as salination and erosion in our farming regions.

Planting Trees

Grow your own vegetables

How does growing your own veggies teach the kids about caring for the Earth? Growing your own veggies is an excellent way to introduce your children to the concept of where food comes from, how good, organic food is essential to the health and wellbeing of not only of ourselves, but of the planet. You could take time to explain how overuse of agricultural chemicals is not only harmful to our health but also to the environment (2), among other topics.

Teach reuse and recycle

Teach your children about composting as part of their learning curve on growing organic veggies in the backyard. This will give them an understanding of reusing and recycling things. A strong background in the reuse of materials will give your kids a great foundation in caring for the environment. As the permaculture principle states: everything should be used as many times as is practical before they are disposed of (3).

Learn together

Kids love questions, and many of these may concern the environment they will inherit. Be prepared and make sure you have a reasonable knowledge of scientific developments and theories of issues concerning the environment so you can pass on the truth to your kids when they ask. Better still, learn together. Say you haven’t got all the answers but you’d like to try and learn. It’s also important to discuss carefully with your child their studies at school about ecology and global warming.

Get kids outdoors

Put your foot down. Get them away from the iPhone/tablet/TV screen and out into the fresh air. Teach kids how to love their natural environment by encouraging them to get outdoors. Whether this is natural kids’ play in the open air or a more sophisticated outing such as a bushwalk, trip to the beach, or a national park, they will learn the value of nature and its inherent beauty. Take the opportunity to teach kids on these outings. Camping trips are great for this. You can take plenty of rubbish bags and pick up litter on bushwalks for example. Give the kids a rubbish bag and pair of gloves to get involved.

Our kids of today will inherit a troubled, sick planet. Much of that is due to their parents and grandparents inability to protect the environment while pouring more noxious gases into the atmosphere. It’s important not to dodge responsibility, we are all responsible for this mess by the lifestyles we choose to live and we shouldn’t try to say “it’s not our fault”, particularly in front of the kids. Take responsibility in the best way possible, set a great environmental awareness example and open up communication with your kids about the subject. Talk to them about their concerns and help them with their questions. The queries get more complicated and challenging as they get older!

Do you have your own preferred ways of teaching your kids about the environment? What has worked/is working in helping to raise them as excellent environmental citizens, young people who are proud of our country’s natural gifts and willing to protect it? Please let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Rich Bowden

Article by Rich Bowden

Rich Bowden is a freelance writer and podcaster. Based in NSW's Central West, he loves family life; reading, thinking outside the square and writes and podcasts about natural food, the environment, renewables and the organic movement in general. You can check out The Real Food Chain podcast, at

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