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How Do We Make Our Children Environmentally Aware?

How do we raise environment friendly children? Here are some actionable tips to start right at home.

How do we raise environment friendly children? Here are some actionable tips to start right at home.

A belated ‘happy’ world environment day to all of you.

I read a newspaper article yesterday about how India’s monsoons are likely to become more erratic in the coming years due to global warming.

When the pandemic started, we all saw whatsapp videos of how the lockdown made animals return to their natural habitats, and how the pollution levels came down. But through the pandemic, we have also seen the amount of waste that has been generated in the form of PPE kits and medical use plastics.

The glaciers in the Arctic are melting so fast that Russia has set up a military base there, to prevent encroachment and illegal trade!

Our development projects raze through forests without a thought about how to restore them back.

Closer home, the smart city project in my home town is guilty of cutting down huge trees which were a big part of my childhood. The roads look naked without them, and I can’t stop flinching when I see another one being earmarked for chopping. Environmental destruction was something which I had heard of far away, but I can now see the effects of it too close for comfort. During one of the chopping drives, I saw a flock of bats flying around confused, when the tree which they lived in was suddenly razed down in half a day.

Basically there seemed to be nothing happy about the environment day so far!

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The shrink in me tried counseling myself that I should be seeing the silver lining around the very dark grey cloud that was forming in my head, lest I end up depressed. I finally  got round to thinking how or what I could do to to help the environment rather than playing the blame game.

As I grow older, I realise that the only true assets that we can leave our children are a healthy education system and a healthier planet to live in. To do so, we need to involve our children in both of these. Because after all, these are meant for their future. Unfortunately, we hardly do it.

In an age where kids are stuck to their mobile phones and gadgets, how do we even get them interested in the environment? Fortunately, children are inherently curious creatures. If we make the environment interesting and start with baby steps at home, then hopefully as young adults, they can make decisions which will help the planet be a better place to live in.

So here is what we can do as parents to help our children become responsible towards nature.

Create more awareness

Do start a small practical experiment in your house. Ask everyone at home to put their plastic waste in a bin for a week; for example, the plastics that our groceries came in, chips packets, chocolate wrappers, wrapping from any parcels that we got online, covers that some guest got us fruits in…etc etc.

At the end of the week, show the children the photograph of a landfill available on google and enlighten them that this  waste is going to be a part of such a landfill. Having a discussion on the hazards that we are creating, is a good way to jolt us out of our daze.

What we hear in the papers or in debates are impersonal bits of information which cannot ignite a life change. We may feel that we are very conscientious people who care about the environment, but just looking at the bin of plastic waste can give us a reality check.

This experiment also helps our children understand that what they consume and use should be responsibly sourced and disposed. Children can then be the ambassadors for the reduce, reuse and recycle movement in your home.

Show them the outdoors

I had read reports that thanks to the current travel restrictions, local travel had become quite popular in the later part of last year. Keep the trend alive. I’m sure all of us live in places close to farms, mountains, rivers and ‘patches’ of forests (for, sadly, that is what remains) within a few hours of our homes. Take children out to these places on weekends with their friends. Cycle, walk, go for hikes. Let them know what grows around them, what animals and bugs live with them unobtrusively and let them enjoy playing in the outdoors.

Once they start enjoying it,  your work is done. I have often seen that with children, once they like or enjoy something, they are responsible enough to keep it in good condition or at least a workable one! Therefore it is worthwhile to make it happen with nature.

Build environment friendly habits

As  James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits, it is the small habits that steer our personalities in the direction that we want to build them. As the cliche goes, ‘every drop builds an ocean’; so does every teeny tiny step, make big strides for the future.

Switching off the lights and fans as soon as we leave a room, using natural light when we sit down to read, switching on the geyser for the barest minimum of time, switching to a slightly cumbersome but more water saving bucket bath from a shower, trying to switch to eco friendly energy sources (for example, solar reading lamps) for our use are a few ways.

When we order in from a hotel, try to do it from a place nearby, walk up there, ask them to fill your containers rather than parcel them in take away plastic boxes and walk back home (after the lock down!). Reuse newspapers as wrapping for presents. These are just a few ways in which we as parents can model environment friendly behaviour to our children.

I remember that, when we were children, all homes would have a plastic bag to store plastic bags, which used to hang around in the kitchen. Do make good use of that if it still persists. If you can’t get rid of all the plastic, at least reuse whatever plastic you can!

Teach your children to mend rather than throw, as is prevalent with our current consumeristic culture. Thanks again to the pandemic, and lack of house help, our self reliance has increased. Learn on youtube and teach your children how to plumb, sew and  mend. Children learn by observing and find it easy to follow a system which is already in place.

Grow a garden

I discovered the pleasure of gardening very recently. I have also realised that the attachment I have towards the plants I grow rivals the one that I have for my children:). It is a different sort of pleasure one gets when we add a small amount of home grown stuff to whatever we cook. I promise you, it feels tastier.

All of us can garden with minimum space and investment. All it needs is some pots, soil, sunlight, water and seeds already available in every Indian kitchen. Kids can be introduced to this almost fail proof, minimum effort activity which is highly enjoyable too. Once they love their plants, their interest only widens.

Make them feel more responsible towards the planet

I was watching a news item where a boy made an air conditioner for his mother’s PPE kit because he saw her distress while wearing it. Children are very resourceful people who can come up with new ideas without the fear of failure. Let us use it for our environment’s benefit.

As author Ellen Sabin asks in her The Greening Book: Being a friend to Planet Earth, we need to ask our children what the earth would expect out of them if they want to keep her as their best friend. They might come up with enterprising ideas which may surprise us.

Think anew

We hail from a country which produced ideas like the Chipko movement for environment protection. It was started by the uneducated rural women of  the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand, whose only aim was to allow their forests to live on. It was then that the Late Sunderlal Bahuguna took it up as a movement. So, if there is a will, there is an idea.

Ideas are the currency of the future (quote duly borrowed from Priyanka Chopra). So, think out of the box. Start car pools locally, set up community gardens in a friend’s home where there is luxury of space and involve your children in a gardening project; try organic farming and sell the produce online on a self developed app or whatsapp groups, start a youtube channel….the ideas are innumerable. Try giving a little time and putting in a little effort into the same. It might not give you accolades or win you awards, but definitely make you more planet friendly.

We are now living in a country which has lost a whopping 14% of its forest cover in 2020. Environmental disasters are waiting for us just around the corner. So please do take cognisance and jump into action as soon as possible and do take your kids along for the ride.

We as a generation should make an effort to learn to share our planet with the other species equitably, live in harmony and make it a better place for the future.

Hopefully then, the ‘happy’ in the happy environment day wish will actually make sense.

Image credits: Odua Images, via Canva Pro

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