Children can nudge green habits for life

Few people realise that when you work with small children, you also engage them with big issues such as climate change.

It’s true, the average three-year-old doesn’t understand the impact of this global crisis but once you make it simple and they grasp the concept, there is no stopping their willingness to help. Harness their pester power and you have allies and ambassadors in equal measure.

Last year I instigated a serious review of sustainability across our nurseries in a bid to become ‘greener’ and we were delighted by the way the children embraced this. Many parents were asking why their child kept reminding them to turn off the light, walk a few extra steps to the bus stop and reprimanding them for not recycling or wasting water. It was clear that once the children realised the impact of these changes, there was no stopping them.

However, as Covid-19 crept into our lives earlier this year, none of us can escape the increase in the amount of single-use plastic waste which we are generating as a result. According to some estimates, globally we are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month – all of which should be disposed of safely (and not recycled), to protect anyone else from the potential biological hazard an infected mask might present.Experts argue that anything that’s been specifically created to be used just once and then thrown away, will either end up in landfill, or escape into nature as our waste infrastructure can’t cope with the volumes we produce.

As we listen to the talk of the “not so new normal”, perhaps we need to think about integrating sustainability at the very core. What can we do at home to tread lightly on the planet? Our children are going to have to live with the economic and social consequences of a £2 trillion loan so they might appreciate us trying to treat our earth with some regard and save them from the predicted environmental catastrophe.

Sustainability is not a subject or part of an environmental programme – it is central to the child’s whole experience and the principle of no waste is a great starting point. Let them see you making changes and explain to them what you are doing.

Start with reducing food wastage, shut the door to keep the heat in, switch off the lights, save the rainwater, have fewer ‘meat free’ days, reuse and repurpose materials and resources, fix things rather than discard them, recycle and show respect for nature and the environment. Most of all, instil a sense of responsibility in the children for themselves and their environment.

Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to show empathy. They will want to help so when they are playing at home creating their works of art, get them to draw on both sides of the paper or use glue sponges (not glue sticks) and choose petals or biodegradable glitter for decoration.

Children are the best nudgers of behavioural change and when you ignore them, they shame you into doing things by talking very loudly – especially where others can hear!  They know they have won when your frantic shushing only makes things worse! Once convinced, their little voices will never let you forget where to put the rubbish.

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