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Environmental parenting can help your children develop an awareness and an appreciation of the world around them. Here’s how to become a green parent.

The effects of pollution on our planet are not difficult to spot. Your first step towards changing the world is to become a green parent. Start by taking your child to nature – this could be right on your doorstep in the form of a shongololo.

“When children become aware that they are sharing the planet with other creatures, they have grasped a concept that will have positive repercussions, whether they end up becoming politicians or plumbers,” says Rhian Berning, environmental scientist and teacher who runs Nature Network, a teaching programme of “environmental learning experiences”.

Rhian says: “Children have a natural sense of wonder. They inspire and amaze me with their knowledge. They look at bugs, for example, and relate them to the planets!”

Her message is that nature is right there in your backyard and it is alive. You find it in little things and through play. Through appreciating the small things – the ants and beetles – children begin to value the importance of each creature and the part it has to play. If the next generation of plumbers and politicians understand those concepts at a pre-school level and are constantly reminded of it, what is left of the environment may have more of a chance.


Show your love and appreciation for earth by cooking these eco-friendly meals and these eco-friendly projects.

The web of life

As American Indian Chief Seattle said in his letter to the American president when the buffalo still roamed, “Teach your children that man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.”

To rural children, understanding their environment might come as naturally as falling off a log, but to some city children, the concept of ‘nature’ is as distant as what they see on TV. The materialism of the malls is what they learn and they grow up expensively, both to their parents and to the planet.

All this stressful racing to keep up with the crazy cost of living can cause one to forget that we are just as much part of nature as the birds and the bees. By becoming a green parent, you can change all this.

Natural materials for learning

“The best toys for young children are ones they can make themselves out of things they can find in nature,” says Nykki Postlethwaite, Muizenberg preprimary school teacher. She shows me delightful ‘cone people’ made the day before by the children she teaches, aged two to five. A pine cone with a seedpod for a head and hat has been given pine fronds for arms and a dashing scarf made from a bright piece of felt around his neck to complete the cosy character.

Nykki emphasises the importance for young children of playing with natural materials such as wooden toys, sand and clay. “Children can learn everything they need to know from nature,” she says.

Everything is connected

The great thing about the simple activities you can do with your children to give them an awareness of nature is that they have the extra benefit of being therapeutic for you too if you are prepared to make the time.

Take the family to your favourite beautiful place. It does not have to be a huge excursion, which might be put off due to time limits. It can be somewhere nearby. Bring a picnic and lie on your back in the grass with your children. Listen with ‘mouse ears’. You may hear the flapping of birds’ wings. You may even hear the whispers of butterflies. Look for pictures in the clouds. At your feet, find a family of insects, work out who the mommy and the daddy are, and which the brother and sister.

Find a log or a tree stump, look very carefully at the rings in the wood and count them to see how old the tree was. Study the rings to see which are widely spaced and which not. The big spaces show years of more rain, the narrowly spaced ones are drought years.

The ripple effect of the web of life is the concept we all need to grasp. Everything is connected to and affected by everything around it.

Lifestyle changes you can make

Here are some ideas for becoming a green parent and educating children on how to become better citizens of the earth.

  • Reduce your waste: recycle. Buy products with less packaging. Present a game that involves sorting out the different types of waste and putting them in their special bins for points. Make new toys out of old rubbish.
  • Conserve fuel: drive less, choose a smaller car. Walk, cycle or take the train.
  • Save water: fit water-saving devices to your shower and toilet. Teach your children to use a cup to wet their toothbrush when brushing teeth and to put in the plug to wash hands.
  • Be energy efficient: buy a geyser blanket. Switch to solar. Use energy-saving bulbs. Turn off the lights when leaving a room and during the day.
  • Prevent toxic exposure: buy green and organic products where you can. Avoid antibacterial hand soaps and hand sanitisers that contain triethanolamine.
  • Plant more trees and join a group involved in clearing alien vegetation.

4 Fun Activities

1. Plant a veggie garden together.

2. Allow your child to help you harvest the veggies and think up appealing ways to serve them.

3. Use veggie peelings for compost to put back into the garden. Allow your child to help put the peelings in the compost bin. Later, they can help spread the compost in the garden when it is ready.

4. Show your child how to sprout seeds in wet tissue paper. Watch them grow in a container. When they’re ready, plant them in the earth together.

Helena Kingwill