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How to Raise a Child "Green" with the Power of Words

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship: How to Raise a Child “Green” with the Power of Words

garbage truck landfill
source: Redwin Law

When I was a kid, there wasn’t anywhere in my town to recycle anything, with the exception, perhaps, of the used oil from my dad’s car dealership. I never collected paper, rinsed jars, or checked for the numbers in the triangle on plastic containers.

I could only read about this great way to save the earth.

It was about this time, twenty-plus years ago, that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” began to be a well-known phrase. I learned it, chanted it, drew the triple arrow triangle…but could only participate in “reducing” and “reusing.” I can’t even say I was very adept at those, but the idea took hold of me.

I have always been a lover of words, always been one of those people who can jump headlong into a fictional world created by an author and his pen, coming up only for a breath of air as I sob along with characters on the page.

Reading about saving the earth was the beginning and end of my experience on conservation. It wasn’t fiction, and reading didn’t really cut it. I am beyond thrilled that over the last 20 years, our world is at a place where my children’s experience is literally the opposite.

Immersing a Child in Green

source: Kitchen Stewardship

It wasn’t until my son started first grade that he learned the words for the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but he had been living it for five years before that. Just today he scolded our 3-year-old for throwing away an envelope in the garbage instead of the recycle bin.

My children are immersed daily in the world of the environmentally friendly green lifestyle. They hear me talk about protecting the earth, but more importantly, they see me live it out.

When you’re successfully raising a green child, here’s what your house may sound like:

  • “I’m fed up with school lunch too! Too much Styrofoam…”
  • “Can this be recycled?”
  • “Turn off the lights; we need to save energy!”
  • “Grandma, why did you throw that away? It can be recycled, you know…”
  • “But Mom, don’t you care about the earth?” (In response to me, saying, “This is so gross, I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” about the juice pouch collection I got myself into.)
source: Kitchen Stewardship
  • “Oh, good! We’re reusing this Christmas paper!”
  • “Don’t throw that away…we can probably make a craft with it somehow.”
  • “Does this sunscreen have chemicals in it?” (Have you seen my reviews of 43 natural sunscreens?)
  • “Why did they have to use Styrofoam in these blocks? They didn’t need that…” (in great disgust)
homemade playdough natural food coloring
source: Kitchen Stewardship
  • “This purple playdough is drying out…we need to make some more, Grandma.” (from my daughter after making playdough with natural food coloring, although she was playing with the fluorescent commercial stuff)
  • “My high for the day was picking up garbage at the park!” (with great enthusiasm and sincerity – the kids’ idea to do it, not mine)
  • “Mom, I just got my jammies on, went potty, AND brushed my teeth without turning on any lights to save energy!”

We call him “Energy Boy” because of quips like this. He’s passionate about saving the earth because it’s part of his world. Even at the early age of six (and well before), he understands his impact on the world more than most adults.

Edit the Dictionary


Taking his passion to the mainstream requires us to redefine language. Just as “Google it” and “I tweeted it out” are common phrases now that were unknown ten years ago, I envision a world where “recycle it” replaces “just pitch it” as the default terminology.

Forget “Kleenex” being the misused word for “tissue” – my vote is that “hanky” becomes the term of choice when one has a stuffy nose.

I want my grandchildren to be just as amazed and confused when they see photos of massive garbage trucks (“Wait, those aren’t for compost?”) as my children are when they encounter such outdated objects as rotary dial phones or TV with commercials you can’t skip.

Let us become word masters, changing the language we use as a society to fit our world’s need for gentle care.

This month, when the good green earth truly puts on a show in many climates, waking up from a long winter’s nap and donning the greenery that inspires us to protect it and even gives us a term for ourselves; this month, let us make a commitment to redefine language, to participate in altering Webster’s Dictionary, one saved piece of paper at a time.

May “Earth Day” just be every day, and “Green…Your Way” simply be “Your Way.”

Speak Loudly without Talking

kids pick up litter
source: Kitchen Stewardship

My kids notice litter on the ground like some kids notice the McDonald’s “M” while driving around town. They know what it’s called and where it belongs, and more often than not, they want to do something about it. They will voluntarily pick up trash with friends (photo above) when they could be playing (much more readily than they’ll pick up the toys in their rooms, my husband pointed out with an eye roll).

When the words “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” go beyond mere words and become infused into our lives, we not only change the way our children speak but the way we live.

We can harness the power of language coupled with the power of habit to create a world where the plastic wrap is a once-a-year indulgence, where pesticides and synthetic fertilizer are the black sheep of the agricultural family, and where children don’t even have to learn about recycling at school because it’s the way of life.

Now…are you going to eat that, or should we compost it?

Let’s change the world…one word at a time.

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.