How Can Kids Help the Environment? Why Early Education Is Important

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

The state of the environment and its disproportionate impact on low-income communities and people of color is an issue that weighs heavily on families. It can feel overwhelming to tackle, especially as a parent looking to ensure future generations will have a healthy planet for all. While you may currently work toward environmental justice, it's also essential to teach kids about inequalities so they can have a voice in the future. So, how can kids help the environment? It starts with having a conversation. Here's how to do that.

What Is Environmental Justice?

Before you can tackle challenging topics with your kids, you have to understand them yourself. As the National Resources Defense Council explains, "Virtually all environmental injustice is shaped by the same patterns of racism and inequality that have existed in the United States since its founding and continue to influence every facet of our society, from education to housing to health care." Environmental justice strives to ensure all people, regardless of race, national origin, or income, have the right to equal environmental protection. It also means everyone should have an equal voice in determining their communities' environmental policies.

You can break this down into more basic, relatable terms for kids by defining those environmental protections. For example, explain that environmental justice ensures everyone has clean water, clean air, and a safe home. Kids can visualize these concrete things better than generalized terms, making them easier to understand.

Mother and daughter walking in the forest

Discussing Environmental Justice for Kids

How you discuss environmental justice is essential for kids to grasp the concept and feel empowered to take action without feeling overwhelmed. Try these simple tips to engage kids in a relatable way.

Use Simple Language

Simplify concepts with words that kids can understand, especially younger children. Beyond using basic, concrete language, describe things in an engaging way for young minds. When discussing complex subjects like environmental justice, find ways to illustrate these ideas more concretely. Even a word like "environment," which encompasses so much, can be challenging for kids to grasp. Instead, use terms like air, water, plants, and animals to help paint a picture they can understand.

Incorporate the Topic into Everyday Discussions

The environment affects every aspect of our lives, so it can be helpful to incorporate discussions about it in everyday life. While taking a walk, talk about the air and how its cleanliness can shift depending on the places you're walking. While eating dinner, discuss where your food comes from and how where you live might impact what you eat. Having conversations that relate to what you're doing can make discussing the topic more natural and understandable for the child.

Be Honest

It can be tempting to sugarcoat difficult topics for kids. Still, honesty is essential to accurately communicate the true weight of an issue like environmental justice. When they ask questions, give them honest answers, but simplify them in a way that matches up with their age. Explaining environmental concepts to a four-year-old will be different than explaining them to an eight-year-old.

Use Real-World Examples

Kids will understand high-concept ideas more clearly when you relate them to real-world examples they have experience with. Instead of stating that pollution affects communities differently, give them a real example of that inequality, like how tap water in some cities is unsafe to drink because it's polluted. This is an example kids can visualize because the faucet is something they see and use daily.

A mother reading to her children at bedtime

How Can Kids Help the Environment?

While you can discuss the environment endlessly, kids often learn best through hands-on activities. Engaging them in projects, games, and field trips can help them better understand what they can do to make a difference.

Try some of these ideas to get started at home:

  • Take part in a citizen science project to help researchers collect environmental data in your local community.
  • Try a backyard air pollution experiment.
  • Explore a local watershed to learn more about water runoff.
  • View the night sky or visit a planetarium to learn about the effects of light pollution in urban areas.
  • Volunteer with a community organization that conducts local beach or park cleanups.
  • Read age-appropriate books about the environment and social justice.
  • Grow a vegetable garden or create a worm farm to learn about sustainability and the food cycle.
  • Visit a farmers' market to learn what locally produced food is available in your area.
  • Set up a zero-waste challenge at home to learn more about how much waste your family creates.
  • Use crafts to teach kids about recycling.
  • Engage in activities that help develop empathy, like doing kindness projects, reading books about it, or listening to podcasts focused on kindness.

Supporting the Next Generation

Environmental inequality can feel like an overwhelming issue to tackle. But exploring environmental justice for kids can help ensure future generations continue to advocate for justice because they understand the need.

For more ways kids can help the environment, check out this guide to teaching kids proper recycling practices.

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Why It's Good

Teaching kids about environmental justice early on can help ensure they're more knowledgeable as they grow. Understanding these complex ideas can give them the confidence they need to help make a difference.