Kids can’t buy energy-saving appliances, wrap their water heater in an insulating blanket, or change the furnace filters. So how can they too be part of the efforts to “go green”?
They can. Even small children can take steps to save resources; it's worth a try to incorporate some simple ways of teaching children to respect their world. Before you know it, these things will be simply part of your family’s lifestyle. Your children may well rise to the “green” challenge—and even pass off some Cub Scout or Activity Day requirements along the way.
#1: Light Up
Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. The new bulbs cost more, so changing all of lights in your house at once can be intimidating. We've made the change gradually as the old bulbs burn out. It’s been worth it: the newer bulbs last four times longer than regular bulbs but use only a quarter of the energy. Let kids be part of the switch, both in buying them and putting them in the sockets (with parental supervision).
Take note of items that are routinely plugged when they aren't actually being used, like a televisions, phone chargers, or electronic games. (In our house, the shredder somehow manages to get turned on at the oddest times.)
If a plug is in a socket, it’s draining small amounts of energy even when appliance is turned off. Kids have a knack for noticing small things (and many outlets are closer to their eye level than adults’ anyway), so turn this one into a game: Who can find the most things to unplug every day? Obviously you’ll need some things to stay plugged in (the fridge, clocks, etc.), but you might be surprised at how many chords can be pulled out of the wall, saving nickels and dimes that really add up.
#3: Lights off
Remind kids that power is still being drained (and paid for) when they’ve left the room and left the light on (even if it's a new, energy-saving bulb!). Help kids make a habit of turning off lights as they walk through the house—even if they weren’t the one that turned a light on in the first place.
#4: Close that Door
A lot of energy is wasted through simple actions—or non-actions. Leaving an outside door open a crack lets cold air in during the winter that then has to be heated up again. In the summer, the reverse is true: hot air coming in must use additional energy to be cooled off.
Similarly, warm air inside the fridge ends up using more energy as it's cooled again to keep food fresh. Kids can learn to close the fridge and freezer doors quickly, not spending time deciding what to eat or keeping the door open while they pour a glass of milk.
#5: Turn off the Tap
Here's a fun one: show kids just how much water they waste when letting the faucet run doing something simple. Using a bowl, catch water from the tap while the kids brush their teeth. They may be surprised how much water is literally going down the drain during that short period. Teach them to turn off the tap. This includes taking shorter showers and not filling the bath to the rim.
If recycling is available in your area, participate as much as your family can, whether that’s dropping off newspapers and phone books at a collection bin or whether you have curbside recycling. Even a preschooler can learn which can the banana peel goes into and which one is for the empty, cardboard fruit-snacks box.
#7: Use It Up
A generation ago, people made a point of making things last. Today, we’re such a disposable society that it’s easy to throw something away and buy another one without much thought. Encourage your children to take care of their belongings so they’ll last longer.
This applies to all areas, from clothing (avoiding holes and other wear, not washing every item, like jeans, after every single wear—which saves detergent, water, and power) to school supplies (buying backpacks every other year, making sure all the pages in a notebook are used before getting a new one), not losing pencils or pens or constantly breaking crayons.
In addition, older children can learn to sew on buttons, patch holes, make shorts out of holey jeans, and otherwise make their clothing last longer.
When children have outgrown clothes, toys, and other items, sort through them together. When you explain that those less fortunate can benefit from their old stuff, children are often amazingly generous with their belongings. Recycling goods results in less clutter and less waste in landfills.
#9: Buy Used
You’ll likely need to buy some new items for your children (shoes, socks, etc), but try visiting thrift shops periodically as well. Some thrift stores have a surprisingly good-quality selection at low prices. You spend less money, and your children get to recycle all at the same time.
One family promised their children brand new clothing if they couldn’t find anything they liked at their local Deseret Industries, but for a couple of years, the kids have opted to get their school clothes second-hand. They’re thrilled at the bigger variety because they're less likely to end up matching someone at school. They've also figured out that because the clothing costs so much less there, each child can get more items for the same money.
#10: Take a Walk
Children love to be helpers and see what they do as making a visible difference. Take them on a walk around your community, bringing along gloves and garbage sacks, then pick up trash as you go.
Encourage children to keep their world clean and to save resources. You may well benefit financially, but “Going Green” is also a way of thinking we can all learn from as we take care of the home our Heavenly Father created for us.