The night had dipped into the high forties, so my 13-month-old daughter and I woke well past sunrise, snuggled together in my sleeping bag. Outside of the tent, my husband was packing out trash as he prepared coffee and oatmeal over our little camp stove. It was our first backpacking trip with our daughter, and as we stumbled through the tearing down and packing up for our trek back to the car, we narrated our steps to her. We wanted to leave our site better than we found it, we explained, which meant collecting even the garbage from previous campers and walking it out of the site. Eager to get her hands on anything, our just-walking toddler welcomed the teaching opportunity.
The education, though, had just begun.
Back home, we do our best to practice — and narrate — best practices for everyday sustainable living using values similar to those we use while backpacking. Leaving this world better than we found it is an end goal for purchasing and using more consciously. Now that we’re headed back to school, there’s no better time to think about ]educating our children on the “why” behind sustainable living and giving the opportunities to practice with us.
A conversation about a sustainable lifestyle reinforces the why behind our intentional actions.
How to Explain Conscious Living to Children
Narrating our actions to our children begins as early as a child’s first days for some parents. From, “Let’s change your diaper” to “Would you like to go in the swing for a bit?” we’re not looking for a response so much as we are explaining our little one’s new and overwhelming world. Similarly, a conversation about a sustainable lifestyle reinforces the why behind our intentional actions, such as a plastic-free kitchen or an ethical kids’ wardrobe, that our young ones might otherwise overlook.
Even the language we use matters.
It’s wasteful, I tell my now two-year-old daughter when she throws her dinner on the floor, and when she plays roughly with her toys, I remind her that we need to be good stewards of our things. Consistent vocabulary words in our home, these carry a weight that, as my toddler’s world grows, will connect to bigger concepts.
At two, she might not understand the urgency of our borrowed time on the planet, but stories like The Lorax show her the value of precious resources. Likewise, telling her to take care of her things and treating her baby doll with empathy corresponds to the underlying principles of a conscious lifestyle: that living with intention demands a certain level of inconvenience from us for something bigger than us and, more broadly, that doing what’s right isn’t always easy.
So it is with our things, our friendships, our purchasing power, our planet.
How to Implement a More Sustainable Lifestyle
The best way to model sustainability for those watching you is to start small and stay consistent. Commit to stop buying plastic sandwich bags and, instead, invest in alternatives. Keep cloth tote bags in your trunk for grocery store visits, and if you end up with any plastic grocery bags, recycle them when you return to the store.
Beyond replacing existing items, choosing the better of two options in future purchasing decisions helps set a standard for your little ones. That might mean selecting fair trade or secondhand apparel when your child outgrows a size. At your next opportunity to buy a birthday gift, select an eco-friendly toy made with fair labor standards rather than the first thing you see on the shelf. Even choosing food from a local co-op helps ease the burden on our earth and infrastructure.
As we tell our children, a little bit of inconvenience can make a big difference over time.
How to Involve Your Children in a Sustainable Lifestyle
Inviting our children into these actions takes some intentionality, but slowing down and providing them with opportunities to be part of the choices we make empowers them to make better decisions for themselves.
As their word base grows, ask them to help you think creatively about how to buy less and teach them how to look for quality when making purchases. Encourage them to reuse items for the same — or different! — purposes. A little imagination can turn a paper towel roll into a telescope, a walking stick, a tunnel for toys or the beginning of this year’s Halloween costume.
The best news? That’s just the beginning.
Check out these responsibly made products from Social Enterprise Alliance members: Market totes you can take on your next grocery run, organic and responsibly made kids’ toys and craft kits that teach values of kindness, volunteering and inclusion.