Today, in honor Earth Day, I asked Beau Edmondson from “Teaching Beyond the Square” to give some tips on how to motivate our kids to set some new green resolutions. Teaching Beyond the Square runs the Materials Center near Union Square and is a non-profit partner with Donate NYC, which is working to help New Yorkers reach the goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030. I know some of our most effective green resolutions at home started with ideas Mazzy and Harlow brought home from school. There is nothing better for the environment than kids who are motivated to protect the earth for themselves and future generations.
If you’re an American, chances are you consume way more than your counterparts in other countries. Systemic problems like climate change and plastic pollution in the ocean can feel understandably overwhelming. But, while we push for political change and advocate for our children’s future, we can also make simple and immediate changes at home. Recycling is a great start (in NYC, we are fortunate to have one of the best plastic recycling programs), but when you realize only 9% of plastic actually gets processed worldwide, it’s pretty clear that recycling is not our best option; it’s the last option.
Instead, we should be focusing on consuming less and reusing more.
One of the most surefire ways of getting the kids excited about reusing materials is when they realize they can play with them. Trash can make great toys! The Cardboard Box is actually in the National Toy Hall of Fame.
Boxes are a vehicle for the imagination which can take them anywhere from the subway to Saturn in a nanosecond. But don’t stop there. Everyday materials that typically end in the garbage also give children the ability to dissect, destroy and discover. There is a lot a child can learn by taking broken electronics apart and then recycling them. They learn through tinkering and you can save a buck by not buying yet another toy.
To help kickstart your greener lifestyle, I encourage you to create a sense of responsibility with your kids and work on making good habits together as a family. Read the list below with your children and see what inspires them to take action.
A Child-Friendly Checklist for a Greener Family:
1) Say no to plastic straws
2) Encourage your kids to use a real glass (instead of plastic ones) at restaurants
3) Say no to plastic bags (use reusable bags instead)
4) Turn the water off when brushing your teeth
5) Make sure kids turn off the light when they are leaving their room
6) Always carry a reusable bottle instead of buying disposable water bottles and make sure your kids do the same
7) Color, tape and play with that Amazon box before recycling it
8) Add “The Re-user” to your chores chart (this job checks to see if there’s another use for items before tossing them)
9) Add “The Recycler” to your chores chart (this job makes sure everyone is disposing of waste properly)
10) Challenge your children to make their beautiful drawings on both sides of the paper
11) Try your best to fix things before you replace them
12) Use rechargeable batteries in toys and then recycle them at places like Best Buy or Lowe’s
13) Don’t be an “aspirational recycler” — learn together about recycling best practices and when your best intentions might be doing more harm than good. For instance, soiled paper (i.e. pizza boxes, takeout containers, etc.) can contaminate other clean paper from being recycled and is best put in the regular trash.
14) Start a little garden or join a community garden and grow some of your own food
15) Start or join some sort of green committee at your child’s school (your school could have a parent and/or a student team)
16) Talk about your initiatives together and spread the word
You don’t have to do everything at once. Allow your children to pick a few ideas and make a plan together on how to put them into action. Let your child have some ownership over what they care about and how they create change.
If you need inspiration, you can visit the Materials Center, a community resource open to the public that houses a large collection of repurposed materials, gathered and donated by NYC residents and businesses. These everyday objects are thoughtfully organized and displayed in a way that makes you want to create, collect, and appreciate the beauty around us. They are even using these thrown-away materials in schools to encourage open-ended play and help enhance children’s learning, creative expression, and ability to problem solve.
Beau Edmondson is Director of Strategy and Communications for Teaching Beyond the Square (TBS), a nonprofit based in NYC which aims to improve the quality of early childhood education. Through collaborative partnerships with school communities, TBS works with students, educators, and parents to advance developmentally appropriate best practices which are more playful, effective, engaging and equitable. He’s also the father of two young whippersnappers in Brooklyn.