Children are never too young to learn the importance of sustainability or begin adopting eco-friendly habits. Earth Day was celebrated a few weeks ago on April 22, but any day is a great time to get started, and experts say it all starts with playtime.
“Kids are built to absorb information at a tremendous pace,” says Anna Yudina, senior director, Marketing Initiatives, The Toy Association. “During playtime especially, they form deep emotional connections to the values they’re learning. This means that you can help your child embrace an earth-conscious mindset simply by making it fun.”
Check out these tips and insights from The Genius of Play, a national movement to educate parents and caregivers about play’s vital role in child development:
• Eco-Friendly Crafting: Crafting that uses household objects can demonstrate creative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. For example, you can construct bird feeders from milk jugs and then have kids decorate them. The best part? This is a sustainable DIY project that benefits wildlife, plus gives children an opportunity to observe flying visitors to the yard.
You can also craft your own musical instruments. For example, rainsticks, so-named because they mimic the natural sounds of rain, can be made by filling paper towel rolls with uncooked rice. Or, keep the beat using homemade maracas made by filling empty plastic bottles with dried beans. Finally, with just a few rubber bands and some glue, you can transform yesterday’s cereal box into a guitar. Now you have enough instruments to start your own band!
• Learn Through Play: Kids can benefit from toys as early as one month old with sensory play that helps stimulate senses and develops motor skills. However, they develop habits and values that will last a lifetime during ages 3-9 the most.
During these years, introduce toys that reinforce the importance of sustainability. For example, a plush sea turtle can help a younger child understand the connection between plastic pollution and the health of marine creatures. For a tween or teen, a wind turbine science kit can build STEM skills and interest, while introducing the concepts of sustainable energy and climate change.
• Outdoor Fun: Warmer, longer days expand opportunities to play outdoors, be active and explore the natural world. Build a nature scavenger hunt in your backyard or take an ecology walk and observe critters, rocks and leaves with magnifying glasses.
Bonus: Beyond boosting an appreciation for the environment, active play is critical for child development, helping hone coordination, balance and motor skills and setting the stage for a lifetime of good health.
• Pretend Play: Pretend play is key for developing curiosity and critical thinking, and there are many avenues for role-playing activities that teach the importance of sustainability. Using action toys, kids can be anything they want to be, from farmers to explorers to environmental superheroes.
Pretend play also presents a fun way to introduce eco-friendly habits that kids can adopt in their daily lives, like turning the water off while they brush their teeth or reducing their plastic footprint by opting for reusable products.
From building a mini greenhouse to studying animal habitats, there are tons of playful learning ideas for indoor and outdoor fun available at thegeniusofplay.org, a great online resource for parents.
Kids are absorbing new information all the time, especially when they’re having fun. To raise earth-conscious kids, incorporate environmental values into playtime.