Friday, July 31, 2009

Raising Green Kids

Growing Up Green: 10 Easy Tips for Families

By Lynda Fassa

When a child enters the world, everything changes—most especially for you and your family, but ultimately for everyone. Each individual experience reflects the promise for the species as a whole. Birth is surely the place where the natural world and the spiritual world meet, where we see unfolding possibilities and the most positive form of growth. But how can you keep that feeling of connection and maintain it for your kids? How can you inspire greatness and greenness without sounding preachy or overly crunchy? Here are 10 easy activities to help your kids grow up "green" and remind them of their relationship to the Earth.

Green Kids_girl with plant

Plant a Seed

There's nothing more magical than having a child plant a seed, nurture it, and begin to see it grow. For my family, the circular nature of life was felt on the deepest level when we harvested big pumpkins that came from the tiniest seeds. Opening the pumpkin and letting my oldest daughter try to count the hundreds of seeds inside was an astonishing lesson in the abundance of the universe. And you don't need a huge backyard; a little planter in the kitchen window offer up the same awe and wonder.

Have Off-the-Grid Fun

Think out loud about the beauty you see and hear in nature. Nine geese flying overhead and honking deserve a "Look!" A sunrise or sunset will never be the same after you’ve spent time making up stories about the ever-changing palette of colors. Children benefit greatly from turning their eyes and ears from the computer or TV to nature. And it makes great memories. My 12-year-old still wants to take early evening walks with me to admire the frost on the bare branches or watch a squirrel’s funny antics.

Eat Real Food--Together

Savoring a good, simple meal with family is one of life's true joys, even if it seems to happen rarely. Engage the kids in planning one or two meals each week. If possible, go shopping somewhere special, like a farmer's market, for some of the ingredients. Fake food (made with excess salt, sugar, and synthetic additives) has become a “quick fix” for so many of us, but at what price? The chemical cocktail masquerading as food may have short-term effects on our temperament and long-term effects on our health. The closer food is to its natural state, the better the choice for family meals--or any meal, for that matter.

Tip: Try a pasta night with whole wheat pasta (Heartland makes several great ones), and a variety of toppings: diced tomatoes, grated cheese, homemade pesto, olive oil. Set the toppings on the table with a big bowl of the pasta and plates for everyone. The beauty of this is that you can enjoy a restaurant style-meal a family--everyone gets what they want--and you're all eating together in the comfort of your home. Super cheap, too!

How Green Was My Bookshelf

Getting your child to spend less time watching TV or playing Nintendo has a lot more appeal if you're able to offer a meaningful and interesting alternative. Reading to your child is a perfect combo of brain-building, intimate connectedness and--depending on what books you choose--a powerful connection to early and lasting greenness. Wonderful classics for early readers include "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "The Carrot Seed." "Peter Rabbit" connects young imaginations to the natural world. A fun, new title in The Little Environmentalists series is "I'm Turning Green," which follows a preschooler who literally turns green as she makes good environmental choices. Or you can try something practical like "50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth." My thoughtful 10-year-old has even picked up my copy of Thoreau's "On Walden Pond." The key, like everything else, is just to make the introduction and let their interest kindle.

Make Treasures from Trash

Keep a rainy day box with extra ribbons and bits of pretty paper, old costume jewelry, anything that that might be transformed into treasure. Folks spend a lot for those doodads at fancy craft stores--yours will be free and will save space (even if it's teeny) in a landfill. Make the kitchen table into an artist's studio. I've sported a brooch of recycled buttons and old jewelry made by my youngest that has gotten sincere compliments from folks who thought I got it at a museum gift store!

10 Earth-Friendly Ideas

Talk About the Circle of Life

Everything that comes from nature goes back to nature, and finds ways to benefit the rest of life. Autumn leaves enrich the soil that brings forth new plants in spring, moms and dads have babies who will, in turn, grown up and raise their own children. You don't have to do all the talking on this subject--all you need to do is start things off, and it'll be amazing where this conversation will take you, especially with little kids....out of the mouths of babes...

Green Kids_dancing

Sing, Dance, Stretch Every Day

Schools tend to focus so much on thinking and reasoning that it's easy to forget the importance of our whole bodies. The best way to enjoy living and nature is to feel great and healthy. Dance around and get silly, or learn some yoga poses oriented toward kids (like frog or eagle pose). Sing verses of "This Land Is Your Land" or "Old McDonald"...whatever you choose, you'll be experiencing a connection to nature, the air, the ground under your feet. You might even begin a lifetime of healthy exercise habits for your little ones, while making nice memories.

Feed the Animals

Saving the crust from bread instead of tossing it in the trash, stringing popcorn on thread to decorate an outside tree on a winter’s day for hungry birds. These are some of the most memorable experiences of my childhood. The simple connection between species, especially undomesticated species, reminds us of how mysterious life and nature are, and how much we happily cooperate on this big home of ours--the Earth!

Go Outdoors

Get outside as much as possible. Take your kids ice skating on a local pond, or go sledding in the park after a snowfall. In summer, dangle your feet from a riverbank. Pick wildflowers in the overgrown city lot. Watch fireflies after dark. Experience something free, breathe different air. Hold hands with your kid. Choose not to plan. Walk wherever you feel like. Let life happen.

We're All Made of the Same Stuff

One of the amazing things about matter? It's all basically the same--we're made up of the same stuff as stars, gerbils, and orchids. We're all connected to each other. Yet each of us, in nature's miraculous plan, is unique and different. Everything in nature has a purpose, a place. My kids grew up hearing me chatter on like this often, and although the older ones occasionally poke fun at me about it, I'm pretty sure they feel stronger because they recognize it's true. Each child is special, an important part of the whole, connected to the great source of all life, and sustained by the generosity of the planet.

Lynda Fassa, founder of the organic children's clothing line Green Babies, is the author of "Green Kids, Sage Families" (New American Library).