Conservation can be a difficult concept for young children to grasp because their focus -- naturally -- is still on themselves. Young kids typically want more, more, more! Teaching them to reduce waste and use less of our natural resources can be tricky, but enthusiastic explanations and examples will make budding conservationists of any kid. Gentle reminders from positive role models will help children imitate eco-friendly behavior.
Keep It Simple
When explaining conservation to young children, use simple terms that relate to their daily lives. Define resources as things we need, such as energy and clean water, and explain that resources are hard to replace once we have used them. Relate conservation to saving something for later by having them imagine a bag of candy; if they ate all the candy at once, they wouldn’t have any to eat later. For instance, the average family of four uses enough water to fill 10 bathtubs every day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Kids can understand how much water that is when it is explained in familiar terms, and they will have fun thinking about taking ten baths every day.
Explain How to Conserve
Children need to know how they depend on natural resources in order to understand why it's important to conserve them. When they use energy or water, bring it to their attention, and demonstrate how to conserve the resource. A fun tooth brushing experiment will show young children how much water is wasted when they leave the faucet running. Plug the sink and let the water run the first time your child brushes her teeth, but don't walk away or you may end up with an overflowing bathroom: The average amount of water wasted by leaving the tap running for two minutes is about five gallons. Drain the sink and repeat the process but turn the sink off while she is brushing. She will be amazed at how much less water she uses and will learn that turning the water off helps conserve that resource.
Set a Good Example
Young children learn from the examples set by parents and caregivers. They learn best when they are actively engaged, so set a good example and explain your actions to them. Let them help sort recyclables (try pretending to shoot baskets) and explain that paper, plastic and metal are made from things in nature like trees, oil and minerals. Explain that recycling paper prevents trees from being cut down. Taking kids on a nature walk will help them develop a reverence and respect for nature. If they enjoy nature, they will be motivated to conserve its resources.
Make It Fun
Young kids learn by playing, so make learning about conservation fun. Get outside and encourage kids to use their senses to explore nature—what do they see, smell and hear? Make an animal collage and discuss how different animals depend on different resources. Reuse recyclables to make art projects, such as fairy houses and mobiles, and discuss how reusing things conserves resources. Young children can understand conservation, especially when they can have fun learning about it.