How do you convince those in the tricky 7–16 age group to set aside time for sport, music, or dance lessons instead of playing video games? For a start, you convince them that playing cricket, tennis or learning the keyboard is a leisure activity that they will enjoy. Once you have done that and they have zeroed in on a pleasurable and healthy activity, you will notice that they begin to look forward to it as a welcome break from the tedium of their studies. It has been rightly said that extra-curricular activities play a key role in character building in the growing up years.
Well, the same initiating process can be applied in convincing your children to be environment conscious. It is not as difficult as it may sound. No, you don’t have to tire them with lectures on climate change or give them a copy of the COP 26 resolutions to memorise. The idea is not to make going green a chore. Let it be a fun activity they participate in, even as they become responsible without being subjected to any boring drill. I am sure children would dread playing cricket if they have to memorise the International Cricket Council’s voluminous manual of rules before playing the game.
The same goes for adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle if it is seen as a tiring regimen. So, how does one go about injecting some fun into the process? One way is by making recycling a natural outcome in the house, and not a special task.
In the pre-teen years, it could start with the pleasurable activity of painting used cardboard boxes in rainbow colours to store the children’s toys. Or making them design and build their own innovative bookshelf with scraps or blocks of waste wood, a carpenter could also help them in that. Or, during the holidays, stitching a shoe-storing bag for the family from leftover cloth. Or even fancy designer patch work bags for placing gifts. It just needs thinking out of the box and spending a bit of time channelising the child’s mindset.
These ideas are for household items. But injecting the habit of recycling leftovers is not too difficult either. For instance, involve the children in making a trifle pudding with spare cakes or biscuits. Or help them turn the remains of a chicken dish or a veggie they love, into an interesting stuffing for delicious toasties. With a splash of cheese and oregano, and a bowl of soup to accompany it, toasties could turn into an amazing dinner that no one complains about. Or you could transform remaining rotis into irresistible wraps by introducing an interesting stuffing. The possibilities are limitless—as far as the imagination stretches. It makes the children’s ability to innovate and experiment that much sharper.
It would be great if outgrown uniforms are not wasted — instead, they are handed over to someone younger.
Why only food, teaching your kids not to waste water is a crucial input you can give them. For example, at a young age they need to pick up the habit of not letting the water run when they brush their teeth. Turning the tap off between washing your hands, brushing your teeth or shampooing your hair, should come automatically. So should conserving water while bathing.
Even when it comes to school, you could start a trend of sorts and pass the idea on to the teachers as well. Encourage children to buy clean but old textbooks every year to save paper and printing ink. The kids could be nudged into making their own pencil boxes from the tins or boxes that lie around the home unused. It would be great if outgrown uniforms are not wasted—instead, they are handed over to someone younger. Or the children are helped to turn them into laundry bags or even shopping bags. If this takes place as a school activity, it will help inculcate recycling as a natural process in the lifecycle of a product.
Teenagers could also be involved in the crucial endeavour of segregating waste and if the chore helps them earn a wee bit of extra pocket money, so much the better. It would make them feel good. Besides, recycling brings down significantly the amount of waste we disperse into the environment, especially non-biodegradable waste.
Apart from segregation, it would be another lesson for life to get them into composting the wet waste. Here, they could have fun playing with soil even as they learn the secrets of nature and follow it up with planting some trees. If the movies and TV shows they see or the books they read reinforce the same values, then the possibility of these values becoming second nature is a distinct possibility.
Meanwhile, to make children think and imbibe green, you as parents have to do the same. For instance, when planning a holiday choose a wildlife sanctuary, a nature park, or woods in the wilderness instead of a five-star staycation, as many do today. Being close to nature helps children appreciate life and keeps them in touch with the raw elements— the wind, sun, snow, and trees, forests, mountains, rivers and seas. Even during short breaks, try to head for places with fair weather and involve yourself in activities like taking bike rides, organising a camp, fishing in a river, swimming or hitting an easy hiking trail. If you don’t help children experience these pleasurable activities, they never will. If you make the effort, your children will associate the outdoors with fun. This will ensure that they grow a healthy respect for nature and take to habits that conserve the environment. This could include taking a walk or cycling short distances instead of using fossil fuel and polluting the air.
Have you ever thought why children throw garbage out of the car or outside a dust bin? It is because their family members do so too. So we parents have to present green living and cultivating eco-friendly habits as a responsible and fun thing to do. If the family is environment conscious, then the children will follow in the footsteps.
The writer is a senior journalist who writes on environmental issues