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How to Teach Kids About Sustainability

So you want to be a good role model and teach kids—whether your own, nieces and nephews or a classroom—how to respect nature, be mindful of the waste they create and more. In short, to teach them about sustainability. And have fun doing it. Where do you start?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

There are some quick pointers on how to do so, such as these 5 tips for teaching kids about sustainable living, geared to a younger audience:

1. Lead by example
2. Make it fun
3. Get kids involved
4. Read to them
5. Volunteer with your kids

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching offers suggestions on teaching about sustainability issues for a more mature audience:

1. Beware of student overload
2. Avoid doom and gloom
3. Focus on quality of life issues
4. Peer engagement and support
5. Student analysis of data
6. Deconstruct eco-rhetoric 
7. Precautionary principle
8. Embrace interdisciplinarity 

Sound like some solid pointers, but not sure how to start implementing them in practice? Turns out there are quite a few resources with detailed ideas and lesson plans.

The Center for Ecoliteracy, a nonprofit advancing ecological education in K-12 schools, believes the best hope for learning to live sustainably comes from schooling that is “smart by nature.” This includes weaving the following basics throughout curriculum at every grade level:

Experiencing the natural world; learning how nature sustains life; nurturing healthy communities; recognizing the implications of the ways we feed and provision ourselves; and knowing well the places where we live, work and learn.

The center offers a wealth of information and material, covering environmental issues, instructional tools, strategies and philosophical grounding.

Facing the Future is a nonprofit that creates tools for educators to equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future. The curricula offered by Facing the Future covers environmental, social and economic issues as well as sustainable solutions.

The National Wildlife Federation explains how Eco-Schools USA can benefit your school. The free program is designed to help schools improve academic performance, save money and conserve resources—to green your school inside, outside and throughout the curriculum. There are seven steps to complete before receiving an Eco-Schools award, one of which is linking to educational curriculum.

Check out what's available at Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF)’s resource center. The mission of CELF is to establish sustainability as an integral part of every child’s K-12 learning experience. Yes! Magazine’s Teaching Sustainability section includes resources on how to build a robust economy, healthy planet and just world for all.

Hungry for more ideas? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a Students and Sustainability online clearinghouse of information, designed for teachers who want to introduce concepts of sustainability in their classrooms and for students who need guidance in their sustainability research projects.

If you are looking for something hands-on this spring, consider the following pointer from Green Education Foundation, a nonprofit committed to creating a sustainable future through education: the garden as a teaching tool.

The foundation sees a garden as a great place to explore sustainability education, offering kids lessons in ecology, biodiversity and conservation. Guidelines offer plans for sustainable gardens at three budget levels and tutorials on constructing wheelchair-accessible raised beds and bird feeders, as well as details on topics ranging from recycled materials to water conservation.

What techniques have you used to teach children about sustainability?

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