Raising a “green” family, one step at a time

Saving the planet can seem like a daunting task, and raising our children to join in the effort can feel overwhelming. Give children a focus. Rather than trying to solve all problems at once, families can do a world of good for the planet by concentrating on one thing at a time.

This summer, we suggest focusing on water. The availability of fresh, clean drinking water is a big problem in some places. In Chicago, we tend to forget this because we live near a plentiful supply—Lake Michigan. Just because we have this resource does not mean we can waste it!

Blue heron in flight
Blue heron in flight

Think of ways your family can reduce the amount of water you use: don’t run water while brushing teeth, put a timer in the bathroom to limit showers to five minutes, or let the grass go dormant and not water it during a dry spell. Make it a family project to find ways to conserve this precious resource. This is all about training yourselves to be aware of waste and think of new ways to conserve.

 You can engage your family in calculating the amount of water you conserve. Make a list of all the ways you are going to try to conserve water, and then keep track of how much water you save. For instance, if you use water only when you’re ready to rinse after brushing your teeth, credit yourselves with saving 15 cups of water each time anyone brushes teeth. At the end of the month, add up the total amount of water you saved and celebrate your achievement.

Will you see a significant difference or get any instant reward for your efforts? No, but you will develop a sensibility that translates to reducing waste in other parts of your life. If we all do this, the effect will be cumulative, but everyone has to contribute. This is how kids can play an essential part in making a difference.

Long-term learning is not a “lightbulb” moment.

Learning that you can make a difference may not be a “light-bulb-going-off” experience for most people, especially children. That may be why the idea that kids can make a difference might be considered a myth—but it’s only a myth to people who expect instant gratification and immediate rewards. More often, we discover our power to have a positive influence on the environment over a period of time.

PHOTO: Green Youth Farm participants.
Green Youth Farm participants.

One of our Chicago Botanic Garden programs, Green Youth Farm, teaches students to grow their own vegetables—another way a family could learn to make a difference. Growing your own food is not only healthy, it also cuts down on energy consumption and pollution caused by shipping produce from farm to market to home. Students in this program experience the satisfaction of seeing what happens when they work with the environment—the sun, soil, water, and air—to feed themselves and help their communities.

It takes months to plant and tend a garden before you get to taste the produce. Likewise, it takes time to see the benefits of positive changes we make and their results on the environment. We have seen children discover the impact they can have on their communities and homes most obviously in these kinds of programs. There is no instant payoff. Making change permanently takes patience, and commitment—and not just for one summer.

What can the Chicago Botanic Garden teach my children?

PHOTO: Nature Nights on the prairie
Learning about prairie ecosystems at the Garden.

We encourage children to discover wonderful things in nature. We help them understand why plants have flowers and how those flowers attract bees. We teach them what plants need to grow and how people need plants. Understanding these things helps children understand why we all need to take care of the environment, and how they are part of the environment, too. The wonderful feelings children get from experiencing gardens and nature help to instill a love of the natural world—an essential component of wanting to make a difference.

Join us for World Environment Day on June 1, a fun family event where kids and their parents can learn about water conservation and other critical environmental issues. Kids will get to help plant the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden and learn a little about growing a garden. They will also discover the myriad of creatures that live in a healthy lake, and they’ll be challenged to think about water conservation to protect these delicate habitats.

PHOTO: Camp CBG boys study lake water.
Studying lake ecosystems at Camp CBG.

Free drop-in programs are held every weekend at the Children’s Growing Garden and Kleinman Family Cove. Topics vary throughout the summer, but all will engage children with fun activities to learn more about plants and healthy ecosystems.

Summer camps offer week-long sessions for a variety of interests for children ages 2 to 15.

Nature Nights and Family Tent Campouts are a different way to experience the Garden. These programs introduce families to what happens at the Garden as the sun sets.

PHOTO: gathered around the fire pit
Nature Nights participants end the evening with s’mores.

Grow a “green” family in your home and at the Garden this summer.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Published by

Kathy J.

Kathy J. has been learning and teaching kids about nature for more than 20 years. She collects bugs, watches squirrels, does not get a rash from poison ivy, practices “snacker” behavior in winter, and is always on alert for interesting plants and animals. When she’s not watching something in the trees or spending time with her teenage daughters, she’s overseeing programs for teachers and students at the Garden.

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