Next time your family is planning a trip to see the world, why not try to save it too? Many children care deeply about wildlife, so let your kids take the lead in your family’s fight against single-use plastic—items like plastic straws, grocery bags, and water bottles that are made to be used only once then thrown away. These products often end up in our waterways, entangling animals or being mistaken for food.
So put your kids in charge of eliminating single-use plastic from an upcoming family vacation, and watch as your little planet protectors become master planners, assertive activists, and creative problem-solvers.
You can’t reduce your reliance on single-use plastic without a little forward thinking: Forget to pack snacks, and you’ll find your kids reaching for those $12 plastic bags of candy at the airport.
Hold a family brainstorming session a few weeks before you go on your trip, and ask your children to imagine the activities you’ll be doing each day. Then ask them to make a list of the ways you might be tempted to use a single-use plastic item on the trip. Are you going for a long walk through the city? You might get thirsty and buy a plastic water bottle. Planning to shower at the hotel? You might use a plastic bottle of shampoo.
Challenge each child to pack a plastic-free kit they can bring along on the trip. It might include a reusable shopping bag, a bar of soap, shampoo and conditioner in reusable travel bottles, reusable utensils and straws, and a reusable water bottle.
Now for the best part: Take your kids to the bulk section of a grocery store to select their own snacks. Nuts, banana chips, and trail mix in reusable containers can make the difference between miserable kids and save-the-Earth sightseers.
When your kids bring along their plastic-free kits, they’re only halfway to ditching the disposables. They’ll also have to speak up when plastic is offered to them—something even adults can find difficult.
Help children prepare by acting it out before leaving for your trip: Pretend to be a server offering plastic straws to the table. What does your child plan to say? Remind them to look the server in the eye and be polite. Your kids might even want to offer a reason for declining the plastic straws. (Send them to Kids Vs. Plastic to grab a few eco-facts.)
Speaking up for what they believe in will help children build confidence, even if they struggle the first time. Just keep encouraging them, and after a few restaurant meals, your kids will be total pros.
Even after planning and practicing, avoiding single-use plastic will be an on-the-spot problem to solve while your family is traveling. Before buying an item wrapped in plastic, ask your children to think of creative solutions to avoid it. Do they want to try a local snack? A street vendor might be willing to put some in a reusable container. Craving ice cream on your visit to an amusement park? Ask for it in a cone instead of a cup that comes with a plastic spoon.
Ask you walk through your new destination, encourage your kids to pay attention to their surroundings: Perhaps you’re visiting a European city with public drinking fountains—take advantage with your reusable water bottles. This creative problem-solving will keep travelling children engaged—plus they just might come up with a totally genius idea to avoid plastic back home.
This exercise will teach your kids one more important skill: flexibility. It might be impossible to avoid plastic at times—and that’s OK. Teach children to try their best, and remind them that even small changes can make the world a better place.