Small changes, even by the smallest people, can make a difference. It’s important to teach children sustainable practices and sustainable living from a young age. This will ensure future generations live in an eco-friendly way and are passionate about protecting the natural world. You never know — you could be teaching the next Greta Thunberg!

Teaching kids about global warming, climate change, and the emissions we produce can be daunting by doing something as simple as driving a car. But, let these words spoken by perhaps the most famous environmentalist, David Attenborough, give you some inspiration:

The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are dependent on that world. It provides our food, water, and air. It is the most precious thing we have, and we need to defend it.’“

We’ve included some simple ways to change daily behaviors and help children with hands-on ways to build sustainable practices.

If you’re looking for some fun ways to learn sustainability activities, please see our guide to sustainability activities here.

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rot, Recycle

The most effective ways to be sustainable are to refuse, reduce, reuse, rot, and recycle. Many of these decisions aren’t made by children; however, there are steps that children can take to reduce their carbon footprint. That means eliminating the use of single-use plastic. This video is a fun way to explain the concepts of reduce, reuse, and recycle to your students. Once they understand the idea, your students could have a crack at this quiz to calculate their carbon footprint.

Refuse

This is the first step toward living a zero-waste lifestyle. Obviously, kids love new things. But by teaching kids the value of what they already have, they can manage their carbon footprint before they even start to reduce it!

Reduce

Could you stop using single-use plastic items where possible? Single-use plastic generally goes straight to landfill after it has been used once. Either try to avoid using it or save and reuse that single-use plastic. Try to stop using plastic bags and use reusable bags. Using a reusable coffee cup instead of the takeaway version is an excellent first step to reducing the waste you create.

Reuse

The easiest way to reduce carbon footprints is to reuse items. Yes, making things from recycled materials is helpful, but if we reuse and use second-hand items, we’re giving those items a much longer lifespan. You can donate items to second-hand shops, buy old clothes, swap toys, and read books from the library. All these things elongate the life of items and prevent us from unnecessarily purchasing something new that has contributed to emissions. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

Rot

Set up a composting system at home to reduce the amount of food waste going to landfills. Sustainability means living in a way that lessens the harm you do to the planet. Composting reduces waste at landfills and helps the soil recover nutrients. If you’re not convinced, take a look at San Francisco, where it’s mandatory to compost!

Recycle

If none of the above are options as a last resort, you should recycle. Recycling saves energy, reduces the number of items going to landfills, prevents pollution, gives trash a second life, and creates jobs. You can use this game to see what can be recycled in your area.

Conservation

Sustainable living and reducing your carbon footprint are all to prevent global warming. To help children understand why we’re doing the above, it’s a great idea to encourage them to learn about all the ecosystems in our natural world and how they’re being impacted by climate change. The WWF’s YouTube channel has some great videos that are a fun way to bring the natural world into the classroom to motivate the children with age-appropriate resources.

Group clean up

Speaking of conservation, why not take the first step more locally? Take the kids to the local park and clean up all the waste. This is a fun activity to see how much the kids may have understood the recycling lessons we covered above. You could even time it with Earth Day and see if there are organized clean-ups near you.

Celebrate Earth Day 2024

April 22 is Earth Day 2024. Use this celebration of environmental activism to teach kids about the organization’s achievements in changing policy. Although reducing your collective carbon footprint is important, it’s vital that we pressure governments to change policies that harm the planet, contribute to air pollution and climate change, and protect our natural resources.

So, why is sustainability important for kids?

That’s easy. Their future depends on it. Healthy ecosystems and environments are essential for the survival of all flora and fauna, including young children.

If children take responsibility for their actions, plan their future, and form a deeper connection with the wonders of this world, they’ll be healthier, happier, and better able to contribute to a thriving future for all.