Ways to Help Children Use Resources Wisely

By Flora Richards-Gustafson
Small environmentally friendly acts can make a big difference.
Small environmentally friendly acts can make a big difference.

It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about the importance of sustainability and conserving the Earth’s resources. In addition to the handling and reduction of solid waste, teach your children about the wise use of water, fuel, time, raw materials and money. When you help your children learn to manage resources wisely, you help make the three Rs -- reduce, reuse and recycle -- a habit instead of a chore.

Setting House Rules

Teach your kids to save energy by implementing house rules that everyone follows. Such rules can include turning off the lights when leaving a room, thinking twice about needing to turn on a light during the day and unplugging electricity-powered video game consoles when they’re not in use. Set similar rules for water use, such as not letting the water run while brushing teeth and not flushing the toilet for fun, as some toddlers are known to do. Other rules can include only turning on the dishwasher when it’s full and using water collected from harvested rainwater to water plants.

Bargain Hunting

When you purchase a brand new item from a store, it takes raw materials and energy to produce and transport it. Explain to your child that sometimes used items are just as good as brand new ones and usually cost less. Instead of going to retail stores to purchase items such as clothes, non-upholstered furniture, electronics, books, small appliances and decorative items, head to local garage sales, thrift stores and other places that sell donated or used items. As you buy things, tell your kids that your purchase not only helps reduce waste, it also helps other people by giving them jobs or extra money that their family may need. Similarly, when your child no longer wants a toy or outgrows his clothes, have him set the items aside in a “donation” box.

Reusing and Repairing

Teach your child to think twice before throwing away items that have a chance at a second life. For example, after a birthday party, have your child help you set aside gift bags so she can use them when she wants to give someone a gift in the future. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests teaching your child about the potential of common items. For example, a large pickle jar can serve as an aquarium after it’s clean. Jars also work well as cups, vases or storage solutions. Similarly, when something is broken, work with your child to try to fix it. When a shirt has a loose button, teach her to sew it on again. Show her how to mend small tears in clothing. Have your child help you take items apart and fix them.

Recycling and Composting

Many recyclable and compostable items end up in landfills, according to the EPA. Help your child grow accustomed to separating waste by placing recycling containers next to the trashcans at home. On the recycling container, place stickers with pictures of items that are recyclable in your area, such as clean glass jars and bottles, clean plastic containers, plastic shopping bags and paper. Show your child the triangular recycle symbol so he learns to recognize it on products. In the kitchen, add a bin for compostable items that you plan to add in your outdoor compost pile or your city waste management provider retrieves. Like the recycle bins, place pictures of items that can go in the compost container, such as dead flowers, eggs shells, stale bread and fruit peels. If there are items you have to drop off at a recycling center, take your child with you so he learns more about the services that the waste management provider offers and the procedure to drop off recyclable items.

About the Author

Flora Richards-Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2003. She creates copy for websites, marketing materials and printed publications. Richards-Gustafson specializes in SEO and writing about small-business strategies, health and beauty, interior design, emergency preparedness and education. Richards-Gustafson received a Bachelor of Arts from George Fox University in 2003 and was recognized by Cambridge's "Who's Who" in 2009 as a leading woman entrepreneur.