Helping our children to make the world a better place
According to a well known saying, you can’t teach old dog new tricks. You probably could, but the optimum time is during puppyhood. Many of us have learned our eco lifestyle priorities later in life. That doesn’t mean we are to be compared to old dogs, but that childhood is a good time to be learning about and living a green lifestyle. Children learn by watching, and doing. When we were children my father had an oft repeated phrase of “Don’t do as I do, do as I say!” This excused him from all sorts of things, whilst expecting us to behave well! One family outing to the park comes to mind where this phrase proved very useful. He issued me, my brother and sister and even my Mum with a warning to be careful by the side of the pond because it was slippery. He was standing quite close to the edge when he said it, and, yes, he promptly slipped and fell in. In that situation we felt it would be best to follow his familiar advice and do as he said, not what he did. We enjoyed that lesson a lot more than he did! Generally though, regardless of what he told us to do, we learned much of what we know about life, from what he actually did. He was kind, he was funny and he worked hard, he loved us. He was an engineer. He was able to find solutions, to make things work and to make them work better. He was a hand on father, a head of his time in many ways. When I look back to those childhood days I realize how much we already knew then about green living. Some aspects of green living take us back to an earlier, less technologically dependent age, like a living history lesson but eco living does not mean that we need to shun all comfort and convenience. How we live now, teaches our children a way of life they will continue with, and hopefully add to and improve on. We owe it to our children and future generations to live a greener life. They owe it to themselves and their children to do what they can. It is their world too. It’s the future for us all, and our planet that we are fighting to protect.
Energy. Contrary to what my children believe, electricity and internal plumbing was already invented when I was a child. I did not live during the time when street lights were candles, or gas lanterns. We had TV, lights and everything. Ok, so there were only 3 TV channels, but hey, it was TV. My Dad loved new gadgets. We were the first in the street to own a colour TV, a dishwasher, a shower. We did own a twin tub washer, and a mangle when I was little but later owned a washer with a built in spinner. Our laundry flapped on the line drying, on a sunny day, or near the fire on a clothes horse on wet days. I used to love coming home from school some days to see my stuffed toys hanging from the line with a peg on each ear. We survived with a weekly bath, changing into play clothes after school to keep our school clothes clean.
We didn’t have central heating, but kept one room warm in the olden days! These days we can improve insulation, use low energy heating and gather around the log burner. My children love snuggling into bed on some cold nights with their snuggly jammies, and a warmed hot water bottle. We don’t need to live in a house kept at a constant sweltering summer temperature all year long. Reducing the thermostat by a couple of degrees saves so much energy. We can reintroduce some of these more eco friendly practices, if not daily then at least sometimes – maybe not the one bath a week one. That one was not so great, but we can survive well on less baths, and quicker showers. Life can go on quite happily with reduced dependence on TV, gaming consoles and other electronic gadgets. Believe it or not, the children of the previous generations managed to have fun without them! That might take some demonstrating – perhaps limiting time or having tech free days!
By returning to use some of the methods of previous generations, whilst embracing the latest eco low energy devices, we can share our skills and make the planet more of a priority than just convenience. We were taught the need to turn the lights off when not using a room. Not only do we switch off lights now, we use low energy lighting. Where we need to use energy to heat our homes, and dry our clothes, we can choose use, renewable energy, insulation and heating methods such as underfloor heating, using lower temperatures. This way we can retain some of the comforts and conveniences we are accustomed to, whilst reducing our carbon footprint.
Transport. Use your feet, bikes, skateboards, scooters to travel. Use public transport. Do you need to use the car or could you combine journeys or car pool? Exercise and play together regularly. It’s fun, and it’s healthier. Children can join in the problem solving decisions of reducing our carbon foot print.
Recycling. In the olden days…yes now I am on a roll, hand me down clothes, baby equipment, and toys were a way of life, as was making and mending clothes, and house hold soft furnishings. These skills and practices can be continued. I can remember the” rag and bone” man coming down the street collecting large household goods, and metal to be recycled. Food waste was composted, some trash was burned but on the whole the rest ended up in the garbage can. Here you can say to your children, “wow..waste disposal is so much better in your generation. Let’s sort out the waste and do even better!”
By playing, and working together outside, we introduce our children to a sense of awe and wonder, respect, and appreciation for the planet we live on. There are also lots of opportunities for learning, and free entertainment. Can you make space to grow your own food, or at least buy from a local farmers market? There was a time when everyone grew some of their own food, or at least had fun looking for blackberries and fruit in the wild. Some children think that milk comes from the chilled aisle and cakes come ready made. Our children will understand how important it is to take care of the planet if they are familiar with where and how food is produced. We also reduce our carbon foot print if we can produce our own food, and make our own food. The earth is our source of food, water – our survival.
By walking and playing out in nature, we are away from technological gadgets, and can be free to think and use our imaginations. Building a den is a must for every child, along with digging and generally getting dirty, as well as regular outdoor exercise and play ! Every season holds opportunities for outdoor play – at the park, in a forest, by the ocean, or lakes. We can spend time outside, and realize just how important and amazing the world is.
Just a word of warning. Don’t go on too much about the “good old days!” or “the hard times “before central heating, before technology became widespread. If you do, you can expect to be met with the rolling of the eye response, or the playing of an invisible tiny violin to mock those difficult times!
I used to watch a children’s TV station where children were being regularly reminded to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Their message was usually great. Then one of the presenters explained by that the planet was in danger. The polar ice caps were melting due to global warming and that is serious because Santa now has less space for his runway to set off on his sleigh, and less snow available to allow him to land on peoples roofs. Really? Everyone knows that this would not limit Santa. He uses magic and fairy dusty to take off, fly and land. Scary lies like that are not particularly helpful and are likely to result in a place on the Santa’s naughty list. This is not a very good way to teach green living. Children often know more than we give them credit for. They soak up information like little eco sponges.
Whilst we are trying to encourage their commitment to eco living, bear in mind that they probably have as much of an interest and awareness of the taking care of the planet as we do. They know that they need to build a better world. We can teach them, and we can learn from them too if we take the time to work together and play together. Being green isn’t all about suffering and we need to teach our children that, it can be an immensely enjoyable and exciting journey – if we make it that way. One excellent weapon we have in the journey is simple – changing and growing is easier when we can all learn together.