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  • Writer's pictureJessica McQuistin

Raising Eco-Conscious Kids (Without Depriving Them of a Childhood)

Parenting is such a mysterious exercise.

I often wonder what life lessons my children are absorbing and which just roll off their backs as they roll their eyes at me.

As parents, we pour and pour and pour all of our knowledge, and care, and wisdom into our kids, never really knowing what lands. But then there are those moments...Few and far between...But just often enough to keep us going. I'm talking about those moments when your child says or does something and you suddenly realize that you've had an influence on them! That they are definitely - for better or for worse - your kid. And something you said or did or experienced with them actually sank in.

Like the time we were hiking in the wetlands of the Huron Natural Area (Kitchener, Ontario) and my daughter Kate spotted a glass bottle stuck in a dead tree. (She would have been around 5 at the time.) She said, wide-eyed and pointing up at the bottle,

"Mom, look! That doesn't belong there! But you could take it home and put flowers in it!"

So we did. And that bottle is still on a display shelf in my kitchen, a happy little reminder of that day.

There's also the time (quite recently) when my son Andrew (4) made a comment after our whole family took Covid-19 rapid-tests (just as a precautionary measure). He said,

"You know what's not good about those Covid tests? All that packaging!"

This one made me laugh! It's taken me until my mid-30s to see packaging everywhere, and he's already noticing it at 4! (This one also made me question if I should tone down my garbage-Grinchiness just a notch...)

Then there are all the times that my kids have come running to me with some ripped piece of clothing or a stuffie, cheerfully exclaiming,

"Look mom! You can sew this! You can fix it!"

I think their excitement is partly because they know I love simple sewing jobs and also because to them, it's sort of magical that something torn can be repaired (and I'm so grateful for their contagious sense of wonderment about this!).

Then of course there are the more difficult moments in the life of an eco-conscious parent.

Like the moment you realize that glitter is the very definition of microplastics! (Noooo!!!)

Or when your kids complain that all the other kids at school have fun packaged snacks like Cheestrings and Bear Paws and it's just not fair that they don't!

I certainly don't want my eco-obsession to deprive my kids of a childhood...Then again, I'm not willing to let them have all the things that "everyone else" has, just to make things "fair" even when it goes against our family values. A little compromise has come in handy here.

Going back to the Cheestring example...

Last school year, Kate was quite amazed by Cheestrings, once she saw them in other kids' lunches. She talked about this many times and I listened. And we talked about why we don't buy Cheestrings - because they come with lots of packaging, and it's just cheese, and they're expensive. And she understood those reasons, but naturally, still wanted to try them. (And who wouldn't?!) So one day, when they were on sale I bought a package of Cheestrings and surprised her with them. Her eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning! I told her that I heard how much she wanted to try them, and thought it wouldn't hurt to buy them just this once, but that we wouldn't make a habit of it. Well, guess what...She had fun trying to make shapes out of her Cheestrings, but after a few days, she lost interest in them and was totally over it! I even ended up eating the last Cheestring after it sat in the fridge for who-knows-how-long. (Those things don't go bad, right?) By the way, this cheesy little story is a perfect example of exercising flexible habits, which I wrote about in a previous post: Sustaina-Minis, Habits Edition: Forming Flexible Habits.

Long story short, if you want to raise eco-conscious kids, my best advice is to live an eco-friendly lifestyle and involve them in it. They certainly learn more from what we do than anything we tell them. And they're always watching and listening (except for when we think we need them to watch or listen right-this-minute!).

Here are just a few things my kids enjoy being involved in:

  • learning about different materials (plastic, paper, cardboard, etc.) and where things go when we're done with them (donation, compost, garbage, recycling)

  • taking nature walks

  • reusing materials for creative projects

  • buying second-hand clothes or giving/receiving hand-me-downs

  • going to garage sales or finding things on the curb (like the awesome wagon we had for years thanks to Grandma's treasure hunting!)

  • picking up garbage/recyclables around the neighbourhood

  • gardening and watering plants

  • baking or preparing healthy foods (husking, grating, chopping, ripping, washing, measuring, stirring - and of course tasting)

  • going to the library (and sometimes borrowing children's books about sustainability or the natural world)

How about you? Do you have little ones in your life that you hope to impart some eco-consciousness upon? I would love to hear your strategies and success stories!


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