EDITOR'S NOTE: Not all of these tips are recommended during the coronavirus pandemic. Always follow your local government's regulations as well as CDC guidelines to keep your family—and others—safe and healthy during this time. After all, these tips will still be good once this is all over!
These days the news about the planet can be overwhelming for kids—and their parents. From the devastating fires in Australia to record-setting temperatures in Antarctica, it sometimes feels like personal actions can’t make a difference.
We get it—recycling can be complicated. Should you recycle plastic drink bottles with the cap on or off? What about a pasta box with the plastic window? Each facility has different technology and systems, so familiarize your family with the city’s recycling requirements. Even better, book a tour of your local recycling center to show kids how it all works. Once they’ve watched tons of cardboard and paper fly up over hundreds of rotating discs, they’ll never look at the recycling bin the same way again.
SHARING IS CARING
Lower your family’s carbon footprint and packaging waste by sharing stuff instead of buying new items. Bring your children to the local library to check out new books and movies, encourage them to swap toys and games with their friends, and talk to other parents in your area about trading kids’ clothes as they age out of certain sizes.
If you’re considering adopting an exotic pet like a tortoise or parrot, first do some research as a family: It is possible this animal has been taken from the wild? If so, consider a different pet, since taking animals from their natural habitats can threaten wild populations. Once you’ve chosen something, thoroughly research the care the pet needs—especially how long it could live. And if your family can no longer care for the animal, take it to a rescue organization. Pets released into the wild can become an invasive species, harming native wildlife and their ecosystems. Just look what these cute little turtles did!
Don’t worry—we don’t mean taking a break from your phone. We’re talking about the charger. Chargers that remain plugged in to the wall can suck energy even when the device is turned off, or not plugged in at all. Ask your kids to remind you to unplug chargers when they’re not in use, as well as switching off power strips for TVs and lamps. We bet they’ll remember more than you will!
About 15 billion trees are cut down each year, many to make paper. Conserve the paper in your home by giving your children scrap paper for coloring, upcycling old magazines for crafts, and using an online resource like Catalog Choice to reduce the unsolicited mail your family receives.
An open door to an air-conditioned building can let 2.2 tons of carbon dioxide escape over one summer, about as much as a car on a 5,000-mile road trip. As your family visits shops and restaurants, ask to speak to a manager about closing the door if it’s ajar. You’ll be a model for your kids, showing what it looks like to (kindly) stand up for what you believe in.
Before taking your children to the grocery store, ask them to look up which fruits and vegetables are in season. Even better: Take a family trip to a farmers market so kids can talk to the experts about their food. Seasonal, local food cuts down on the energy needed to grow and transport it, plus the trip might encourage picky eaters to try something new.
Can’t get your kids off their phones? Put it to good use by tracking or reporting the litter they spot in an app like Marine Debris Tracker or through your local environmental protection website. Some cities use the data to create new regulations that will combat pollution.
Let your children pick out their own reusable water bottle and decorate it however they’d like. Then bring those water bottles everywhere. It’ll save you some cash, plus keeping track of their bottles will help teach your kids about responsibility.
Does your favorite local restaurant hand out plastic straws? Or does your downtown ice cream shop use those tiny plastic spoons to give out samples? Empower your kids to request no straws when they order their drink or ask for broken pieces of waffle cones instead of plastic spoons. And if your youngsters are super brave, help them ask the server or manager to change the policy. (Here’s a guide to get them started!)
Before and after going on a family hike, have everyone clean the bottoms of their shoes, because the mud caked in your sneakers could contain the seeds of invasive plants. It’s especially important to be careful when visiting an island or other vulnerable habitat.
Pack binoculars on your next family outdoor adventure. They’ll allow your children to observe wildlife without disturbing the animals, which can stress them out. This also encourages kids to stay on the trail so that they don’t damage the ecosystem.
Instantly transform your kids into scientists by signing up for a citizen science project that tags, tracks, or identifies animals. Just snapping a photo of a butterfly and uploading it to a site like iNaturalist can help biologists learn how these animals are adapting to a changing world.
If you’re bringing your family dog on a walk, always keep it on the leash. Dogs sometimes hunt or chase wildlife, and they can stress local animals just by running through their habitats.
BACK WHERE YOU FOUND IT
It’s fun to search for slugs under logs and salamanders under rocks, but teach your children to always put these things back. Rocks, leaves, and logs are animals’ homes, and moving them can upset the fragile ecosystem.
Plan a full family vacation or just an afternoon jaunt to a wildlife refuge, national or state park, bird sanctuary, or nature preserve. These places are more likely to receive funding to stay open if more people visit them.
Be suspicious of experiences that promise up-close interactions with wild animals like big cats, elephants, sloths, and monkeys. Often these animals have been snatched from the wild and are suffering in captivity.
Avoid souvenirs or other items made from animal parts like scales, teeth, feathers, tortoise shells, seashells, coral, and especially ivory. Instead, take your kids to local bazaars where you can meet the artists and search for items made of materials like fabric, aluminum cans, or magazine paper.
Many hotels offer guests the chance to reuse towels instead of sending them down to be cleaned after each use. Take advantage of this eco-friendly policy and ask your family to hang up their towels after each use. (And maybe they’ll even start doing it at home without being asked!)
FALL IN LOVE
If we’re going to save the Earth, first we need to remember why we care. No matter where you travel, you can draw your kids’ attention toward a beautiful flower or an interesting bird. Talk to your kids about why the planet is worth protecting—then do all that you can to help save it.
It’s true that sweeping collective action is needed to curb climate change, but small adjustments by people help too. Plus, by taking action to protect the planet, you can help your children feel empowered in the face of these global problems. Start with these tips to get the whole family involved in protecting the Earth.