By Theresa Centola
Sustainable living can be done in many ways, from biking to work to recycling at home. Summer vacation is the perfect time to introduce some sustainable living practices to kids as they spend more time at home. Read on to learn how you and your family can practice sustainability, and better yet, make it fun!
- Playing outside. A simple yet fun way for the whole family to connect a bit more with our natural environment.
- Include kids in gardening. Growing your own garden is a great way to learn about sustainability. Involving kids is a fun way to be hands-on with natural resources and learn more about where our food comes from.
- Shop local. Visiting your neighborhood farmer’s market and purchasing items such as home-baked goods, garden grown veggies, and hand-made soaps is a fun way to support your local and regional economy.
- Try meatless Mondays. While not all protein alternatives are the poster children for sustainable foods, meatless Monday can be a simple way to integrate a more sustainable diet. Share information with your family about why this behavior helps the planet. For example, producing one pound of beef can use up to 39 bathtubs of water, while the production of uses only 4 bathtubs of water (Consumer Ecology; Dekykno, 2019).
If you’re interested in some more hands-on activities, try these!
- Label your recycling bin. This is a great opportunity to remind everyone about what can and cannot be recycled. You can attach examples of recyclables to your bin, provide pictures of what can be recycled, and highlight common recycling mistakes to avoid. Here’s a list of common recycling guidelines to get you started (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2022).
- Go on a “green team walk.” Bring gloves and a trash bag to pick up trash while walking around your neighborhood. This can be a rewarding and enlightening experience to teach you and your family about the impact of pollution.
- Make recycled robot art. Collect recyclable materials for a week such as paper, paper towel rolls, tinfoil, broken toy pieces, water bottles, jars, and egg cartons and use them to create a robot!
For the activities listed above, consider adding a reward system for extra fun! For example, filling the recycling bin, or a bag of trash from a green walk, could be rewarded with a movie night or choosing what’s for dinner.
Finally, if you’re looking for a bigger challenge, try building a solar oven!
- Check out these instructions and this video to learn how to build a solar oven and make s’mores. This activity shows the power of natural resources (the sun!) and alternatives to electricity and natural gas (NASA; SciShow Kids 2021).
- Materials: pizza box or donut box, tinfoil, plastic wrap, pencil, dark-colored plate or paper, scissors, and tape.
- Additional foods to try cooking in your oven: frozen pizza bagels, and edible cookie dough.
- Tips: solar ovens work best on days that are 85 degrees or warmer – don’t forget to preheat!
- Afterwards, discuss ways to make the oven better. Maybe painting the entire inside of the oven black or adding a mirror to direct the sun.
No matter how you choose to engage in sustainability this summer, teaching the next generation about sustainability will make a big difference! Engaging kids in sustainable practices will help them build social consciousness while teaching them to appreciate our planet, conserve resources, and ultimately empower them to build a better future.
About the Author – Theresa’s expertise is at the cross-section of environmental engineering and community engagement. This empowers her to make meaningful connections between diverse audiences and the complex systems embedded in sustainability practices. She specializes in engaging with underrepresented communities and youth.
Her master’s work focused on exploring the innate capabilities of nature to process pollution for sustainable remediation. Outcomes from this work highlighted the importance of considering solutions from all angles. As an outside technical expert approaching a problem, engineering solutions must align with community needs. This experience informs Theresa’s engagement approach – listening first to understand the key issues, barriers to solutions, and resources available. This insight can then be used to inform solutions that catalyze meaningful change and elevate local voices.
Theresa is passionate about integrating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) principles into both her personal and professional life. She has experience working with underrepresented Denver youth to educate and empower sustainable actions. She also served as a program coordinator for the Colorado Water Center Fellows Program at Colorado State University, engaging with historically underrepresented undergraduate students to provide access, resources, and community as they pursue water-related careers.
Consumer Ecology. (n.d.). https://consumerecology.com/tofu-carbon-footprint-environmental-impact/. Retrieved from Consumer Ecology Web site: https://consumerecology.com/tofu-carbon-footprint-environmental-impact/
Dekynko, K. (2019, February 14). What’s the beef with water? Retrieved from Denver Water Web site: https://www.denverwater.org/tap/whats-beef-water?size=n_21_n
NASA. (n.d.). Make S’Mores with a Solar Oven! Retrieved from NASA Climate Kids: https://climatekids.nasa.gov/smores/
Przy, R. (2023, March 27). 25 Sustainability Activities For Kids That Support Our Planet. Retrieved from Teaching Expertise: https://www.teachingexpertise.com/classroom-ideas/sustainability-activities-for-kids/
SciShow Kids. (2021, February 22). How to Build a Solar Oven. Retrieved from YouTube website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsXhfpE5NCY
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, November 13). How do I Recycle?: Common Recycleables. Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency website: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/how-do-i-recycle-common-recyclables