How to Raise an Eco-Conscious Child

Babies are like sponges—they absorb everything—so now is the perfect time to introduce an eco-friendly lifestyle. Start here with these easy and fun ways to go green together.
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By Yelena Moroz Alpert , Contributing Writer
Updated April 6, 2021
mom and toddler enjoying greenery in backyard
Image: Tom Werner / Getty Images

Leave the car at home.

Headed to a playdate? Why not walk there. One gallon of gas produces 18 pounds of CO2—so each time you opt to go by foot, you’re keeping the greenhouse gas to a minimum while teaching baby not to rely on cars (plus, you’re both getting fresh air and exercise). Another fun idea: Outfit your bike with a special seat or a cargo trailer to chauffeur baby around on two wheels. Just wait until baby is at least 12 months, so their head and neck muscles can support the weight of the helmet. Bonus: You’re priming kids early on to have patience instead of whining, “are we there, yet?"

Create a recycling center.

Use colorful storage bins to sort plastics, metals and paper and begin teaching your tot about different types of trash. As you probably already know, babies love placing things into containers. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll figure out this system, making an ordinary household chore faster for you and fun for them.

Plant something together.

Growing a seed in a cup is one of the first things kids learn at preschool. Whether you make a garden in your yard, grow veggies in planters on your deck or set up a little herb garden on the kitchen windowsill, it’s never too soon to start teaching your little one to nurture and care for living things. Herbs are great since not only are these plants super-easy to take care of, you’ll also teach baby about fresh flavors. Before you know it, basil pesto pasta might just replace boxed mac-n-cheese as the go-to favorite at your table.

Snack conscientiously.

Yes, individually wrapped string cheese and goldfish crackers are convenient to toss in the diaper bag, but all that packaging just ends up in the landfill. Save resources (and money) by buying in bulk and packaging items yourself in reusable glass and BPA-free plastic containers. Baby won’t know the difference if their blueberry puree comes in a reusable cup or a disposable pouch. Take it a step further and swap paper napkins for cloth ones, or even old burp cloths.

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Tote matching bags to the market.

Set a good example by bringing a reusable bag to the store or farmers market and snag a pint-size version so your child can follow in your eco-friendly footsteps. Now you can both bypass those pesky plastic bags (one of the primary polluters in natural environments) at checkout.

Cut down on bath time.

Unless baby is covered in spit-up or tomato sauce, they actually don’t need daily baths. Just half a tub can use up 35 gallons of water, so scaling down rubber ducky playdates to two or three times per week can make a significant difference in your household’s water use. Plus, a little dirt may actually boost baby’s immune system. “We have many healthy, beneficial bacteria that live in and on our bodies,” says Michelle Bennett, MD, pediatrician and mother of two in Lexington, Kentucky. “Those healthy bacteria keep harmful bacteria at bay.” Got a full house? Save even more water by orchestrating joint baths. Since siblings are in close physical contact all the time, bathing them together shouldn’t pose any hygiene concerns unless one is recovering from a gastrointestinal infection. When you do bathe baby, opt for plant-based products that are gentle on their skin.

Upcycle toys.

Instead of bringing home another store-bought toy that will soon collect dust in the toy box, green up playtime by creating your own fun—and recycling at the same time. Get crafty and make DIY instruments by filling an old baby food jar or plastic bottle with dried beans (just be sure to glue the top shut to avoid spills), or cut holes in a cardboard box and fill it with different objects to create a touch and feel discovery box. Nature is another great place to look for inspiration. Little hands love collecting, so give your toddler a small sack to gather up twigs, pinecones and leaves, then create panoramas and collages when you get home.

Read about the environment.

You already know it’s good to read to baby, so why not teach them to love nature, the environment and recycling along the way? Little Green Books, an eco-friendly series, packages earth-conscious messages into fun, colorful stories, like The Polar Bears’ Home: A Story About Global Warming and The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling.

Sing along to green tunes.

Add a few earth-friendly songs to your playlist. Jack Johnson’s The 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) song is catchy and so easy to remember it could almost be an anthem for our planet. The Laurie Berkner Band sings a cute ballad, One Seed, about protecting Mother Nature. Check out your local children’s library to see if they have other earth-friendly tunes to take home and try.

Shop secondhand.

Babies grow quickly and have a natural proclivity for staining everything. Instead of buying brand-new outfits you’ll eventually have to toss (approximately 14.3 million tons of textiles end up in the trash each year!), visit your local consignment shop. You’ll feel good knowing that the huge selection of garments and toys (sometimes with tags still attached) isn’t using additional resources and comes at a fraction of the retail cost. Just be sure to wash everything well before wearing. When they’ve outgrown your stash, ask your toddler to help you choose which pieces they want to donate. Having them help pare down their toys and books to donate is another great teaching tool. After all, sharing is caring.

Celebrate Earth.

Earth Day (April 22), Arbor Day (April 30) and World Oceans Day (June 8) are widely acknowledged with plenty of local events and activities you can get involved in. Take the family to the beach or on a hike at a local park to get into the spirit of these earth-friendly festivities.

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