By Gabrielle Kotkov, MSc in Child Studies, AMI Certified Montessori Teacher
At Tiny Earth, we believe that small changes lead to big impacts, and that environmental stewards come in all sizes. Taking care of our planet is a focus for us that extends way beyond Earth Day, and we can get our young children involved in sustainability efforts year-round!
Research shows that habits and infant imitation begin as early as 14 months. When we involve our children in sustainability practices from a young age, they will develop an innate awareness of the Earth and how we can all take part in caring for it.
Composting with Kids
The practice of separating food waste from other waste gives young children the hands-on impression of what is natural matter, and what is not. When children engage in composting at home, they are able to sensorially experience what type of matter goes back to the earth and can be turned into food for plants. Raising children’s consciousness about this type of reuse heightens their awareness of our interdependence with the world of plants, and fosters a respect for the botanical world.
If you don’t have space for your own backyard compost at home, you might be able to bring your food scraps to a local farmer’s market, or find a company in your area that will pick up your food scraps and bring you soil made from compost in exchange!
Growing Food with Kids
Why is it that a tomato you grow yourself just tastes better than one bought in the supermarket?
There is something special about eating something that you helped to grow. Giving children the experience of watering a plant, watching it grow, and eating the plant’s fruits allows them to understand the life cycle of a plant. Picky eaters may even be more inclined to taste a vegetable they watched grow from a seed!
If you don’t have space for a vegetable or herb garden at home, you might have access to a community garden in your neighborhood. Visiting a local permaculture or organic farm that gives tours is another wonderful way to see food-growing on a larger scale! Even caring for a windowsill basil plant is a great way to grow an edible plant with your child.
Participating in the circular economy
We can help children understand that when we are done with our belongings that still have life left in them, we can pass them along to others, and we can appreciate things that others have passed along as well. Even the youngest children can have a hand in deciding which of their clothes, toys and books are ready for donation to a thrift store or consignment shop.
Hosting a clothing or book exchange between friends is a great way to share resources within your local community. If you live near a Little Free Library box, your child can select a book of theirs to donate to the library and then pick out a new one to take home. Putting things out on a stoop, front yard, or driveway is another wonderful way to offer things to your neighbors!
Repair and Reuse
In a Montessori classroom, you might see a child as young as four years old sewing a button to a piece of cloth, using a real needle and thread. Not only does sewing build hand strength and hand-eye coordination in preparation for writing, it is also a very useful skill! You can teach your child how to sew on a button, as well as how to sew a patch onto a hole in a piece of clothing, in order to help them extend the life of their clothes.
Children who are too young to handle a needle can still participate in sewing projects, like making reusable cloth napkins. They can help select the fabrics, and can use scissors to cut the fabric (another excellent activity for building hand strength and hand-eye coordination!)
By breaking the cycle of over-consumption, developing an appreciation for our interconnectedness with the plant world, and normalizing the reuse of resources, we can empower an entire generation to consume consciously, all year long.