How to Teach Young Kids About Energy Efficiency, Sustainability, and Conservation

Conservation isn’t Hard; It’s Fun!

Being energy efficient and saving energy when possible has become more and more common.  It’s not that we’re using a lot more individually; it’s more because there are so many more people on the planet.  Each one of us must do our part to ensure that we’re using resources in a safe and sustainable fashion.

Just like we teach our kids from a young age how to interact, how to play nice, and how to be good people; we should be teaching them from a young age about how to save energy and make sure they’re treating our planet with respect.

Here are a few ways you can teach young kids about energy efficiency, so that when they are old enough to make their own choices, they will continue the good habits.

Show Them Where Energy Comes From

Young children know that when you flick the light switch up, the lights come on.  But for many, they don’t understand that electricity is what powers those lights.  Fortunately, they don’t really need to know all of the details on how it works; they just need to understand that electricity isn’t free, and it needs to be made at a power plant.

Here is where a field trip, or perhaps watching a YouTube video, is in order.  If you are close to a power plant, you can drive by and explain that as the coal is burned, it turns massive turbines. — Those turbines generate the electricity, but the byproduct is all that smoke coming out the top.  We need to have electricity, but the more we use the more smoke we put into the sky.

If your kids are old enough, you can go into more details. For the young children, however, emphasize that smoke is bad for the environment, and we should do our best to keep it at a minimum.

Explain How We can Use Sustainable Sources

Telling children that we want to keep the smoke to a minimum is a great segue into explaining that electricity doesn’t have to come from a coal fired power plant.  In fact, there are multiple ways to make electricity that don’t cause lots of pollution.

Wind – Many areas of the country have wind farms nearby.  Take a little road trip to see them in action.  Children (and adults) are fascinated by these giant turbines.  While you watch them spin, you can explain that they have the same effect as the heat from the burning coal: turning generators, but without the smoke.

Hydro – Most areas don’t have hydro-electric dams.  Even when they do you often aren’t able to get close enough to see how they work.  You may want to have a YouTube session to see how the moving water turns the turbines to create the electricity.

Solar – Solar panels are popping up all over the place.  Find some that you can see from the road, or from an upper-story window. Show them how the sun hits the panels and converts the rays into electricity.  Most little children won’t need to know much more than this, all you have to do is explain the sun puts off energy every single day and the solar panels capture the energy and turn it into electricity.

Kids don’t really care where their energy comes from.  They just want to know that when the light switch goes up, the power comes on.  But showing them from a young age that we don’t have to burn coal to create that energy, instead we can use alternative means to reduce our impact on the environment, will instill in them the mindset that there are alternatives that work wonderfully.

Teach Them about Recycling

Recycling can be a fun game, especially when the kids can earn money from their efforts.  While it’s not going to pay for their college, it will help to keep their interest in being resourceful, sustainable, and conserving energy.

Cans – Take an aluminum can and ask the child where they think it came from.  Likely they will say the grocery store.  Explain to them that the can is made out of metal, and that metal had to be dug up out of the ground. Then lots of energy was used to melt it, shape it, and eventually the can was created.

Explain that when we use a can and throw it away, they have to go dig up more metal, melt it, shape it, and create new cans.  But we can recycle the cans we have already used, and we eliminate many of those steps.  Keep in mind that recycling aluminum is about 95% more efficient than creating new aluminum.

Plastic – Do the same with a plastic bottle.  After they have made their guesses, explain that plastic is actually made with oil (the same stuff that when refined it can be used to power our vehicles).

You don’t have to get into specifics about how they are made. Talk about how lots of oil and heat are used to create the plastic, and when we throw it away, it just plugs up our landfills (or ends up as ocean trash).  For each ton of plastic we recycle, we save 684 gallons of oil!

Glass – Glass used to be made from melting sand.  Modern techniques are a bit more improved upon, but they still require a lot of heat (and other materials). Glass is one of the most recyclable materials around; it can be used over and over.  It is estimated that for every bottle we recycle, we save enough energy to power a 100 watt light bulb for 4 hours.

The biggest issue is that it takes a lot of energy (and raw materials) to make these products.  Instead of throwing them away, or littering, it’s easy to drop them off and have them recycled.  With little kids it’s a game, they love to sort recycling and when the box is full they enjoy trips to the recycling center.

Encourage Sustainable Actions

Knowing where energy comes from and how we can reduce our impact by recycling is the start.  The true benefit comes when we encourage and promote sustainable actions. These actions, when implemented while our kids are young, will last their entire lives.  Habits formed early die hard.

Turn off Electronics – Light switches, TV’s, computers, and more. If they aren’t going to be used in the next few minutes, turn them off!

Play Outside – Not only does getting outdoors encourage exercise, it also reduces electricity consumption.

Have an Electricity Free Night – For a couple of hours, turn off everything non-essential.  Summer is great for this since it’s warm and light out.  Take a blanket to the yard, and have game night outside.

Explore Solar Power – There are many different options for going solar today; from the traditional PV solar panels that you can commonly see on asphalt and even some metal roofs, to the newly unveiled solar tile offerings from the likes of Elon Musk! — Have you looked into them?  Make your home Eco-friendly and your kids will be able to see it in action.

Upgrade Bulbs – LED bulbs hardly use any electricity, and they last longer than CFLs. You can save a lot on your utility bills by upgrading.

Read More – Turn off the tablets, TV’s, and gaming consoles, and break out the books!  Mix in fun and educational stories, so your kid can broaden their horizons and make informed choices.

Teach Energy Efficiency at Home and Find your Kids a Great Preschool

As your kids are growing up, it’s tempting to keep the education at school and home life for other things.  But as little knowledge sponges, your kids want to learn all the time.

No matter where you live, the principles are the same; quality education matters, so find your young kids a great preschool that is more than just a daycare and will help introduce many meaningful and relevant topics to your kids, thus making a lasting impact on their education and sustainability awareness. AFB Kids is a great example of what we mean by more than just a daycare, and these kinds of schools are everywhere, not just in Billings, MT! All you gotta do is find one, your kids will thank you later.

Still, the biggest boost in your kids’ learning is going to come from home when they’re otherwise having fun. 🙂

How are you helping your kids learn about conservation?

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