Empowering Kids to Take Environmental Action

Cover Image Empowering Kids to Take Environmental Action/ 4 hands holding up the earth

Our kids are not responsible for the environmental mess that they have inherited. It was choices made by ourselves, and the generations that came before us that have created issues such as climate change, plastic pollution, and limited resources. Really it shouldn’t be left up to our kids to look after this mess. Unfortunately, us adults move rather slowly in adopting change. However, most kids don’t want to inherit this mess. These kids are the ones taking small steps toward becoming the change-makers of the future. It is for this reason that we need to take the steps towards empowering our kids to take environmental action.  

Our kids are eager to make a difference. They still have hope and imagination and can envision a different world. Our actions as teachers, parents, and leaders can create the next generation of change-makers. We can empower our kids to take environmental action and make a difference for the future. 

a boy picking up trash on the beach

Encouraging Kids to Take Environmental Action​

1. Focus on Hope​

We know from listening to the news that our Earth is in trouble. Climate change, plastic pollution, loss of habitat, and so many other tragic stories plague our news feed. They create feelings of doubt, depression and hopelessness in adults. Now imagine, what learning about these situations does to a child who is not ready to process these things. 

Feelings of doubt and hopelessness do not lead to action. Instead they lead to people feeling despondent and like their own actions don’t matter. This is why many environmentalists experience burn out. However, hope, even just a glimmer of it, can lead to action. It is this hope and knowledge that our actions do matter that inspires and empowers people to work for change. This is not just true for adults, but for children as well. 

Provide your children with hopeful examples from around the world. I just did a quick google search and came up with multiple stories of inspiration. Stories of adults and children making a difference around the world can lead to empowerment. You can even find stories specifically about children helping the Earth to give your children hope for the future of the planet. 

2. Focus on Small Actions with Visible Results​

Change is hard for everyone. However, making small changes with a visible difference can help boost both morale and understanding of the impact of these changes. Don’t force these changes. Instead try to have your children come up with some of the daily actions that they can take. They will definitely have more “buy in” if they take the lead. 

You can find lots of ideas on creating a sustainable classroom here. Some small changes that kids can make at home or at school are:

  • taking a refillable water bottle to school instead of a one-time use water bottle or juice boxes (this will save money too)
  • setting up a recycling station at your home or in your classroom
  • taking a waste-free lunch to school
  •  using re-suable bags for toting things back and forth from school or activities
  • having a waste-free party
  • riding bikes to school or a friend’s house instead of getting a ride
a group of kids planting trees

3. Let Them be Leaders​

Children love to be given responsibility. It makes them feel valued and important like they have a job to do. They especially love if they can take responsibility over a passion project of their own choosing. Allowing your kids to follow through on a big idea will empower them and reinforce the idea that they too can make a difference. These types of projects teach kids so many important life skills as well as boost their confidence and feelings of self-efficacy. 

If your kids approach you with an idea, support them in implementing it. Whether it’s a fundraising project, a park clean up, or setting up a recycling station, give your kids a hand. Please don’t take over and do it for them. 

Your job as the adult might be:

  • helping problem-solve the logistics of the activity
  • providing materials
  • contacting necessary authorities or businesses 
  • helping problem-solve things that aren’t working out

4. Follow Their Passions​

Often children’s interests are what drive them towards taking action. For example, learning about how a favourite animal is affected by pollution or climate change might lead kids to want to learn more about that animal and the issues it faces. This passion may lead them to fundraise or create an awareness project. I’ve even seen kids as young as grade 5 create their own website!

Allow your kids to build on these passions. Support them in finding resources and sharing their ideas. Again, don’t try to take over their project, simply let the children lead. 

3 people harvesting a garden

5. Don’t Dismiss their Ideas, Thoughts, and Feelings​

Create a safe place where your kids or students feel comfortable in sharing their doubts, feelings, and ideas about the future. When kids share deep or scary feelings, don’t just dismiss them or try to solve the problem. Acknowledge that these feelings are real and thank the child for being brave enough to share them with you. This openness will help create a space where kids feel comfortable in sharing their big ideas or feelings. 

There are so many things that kids have to worry about these days. The effort you put in to building relationships will go a long way to building resilience in our kids. 

6. Get Outside…Every Day​

Allow your kids or students to create lasting relationships with nature. Probably one of the most important aspects in empowering kids to take environmental action is having them first understand what they are trying to protect. Kids build this understanding through building their relationship with nature. This relationship can only be built through repeated time spent in nature.

As kids spend time outdoors, they come to see and understand the many aspects that make up nature. They see how each part of nature interacts with each other, including themselves. This understanding of how our own actions affect nature is vital in encouraging sustainable behaviour. 

7. Set the Example…Take Environmental Action Yourself​

As the adult, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you need to set an example for your kids. If you talk a big game about reducing waste, but get a new disposable cup from Starbucks everyday, your kids are going to notice. Take the lead and let kids notice what you are doing. Your actions will go much further than your words will. 

a teacher and 3 kids using magnifying glasses

Now Let Your Kids Be Leaders​

It’s time to let your kids shine. Empowering our kids to take environmental action will allow them to grow in their confidence and abilities. Give your kids the freedom to take risks and try new things. So many kids are eager for a challenge and to know that their presence on the Earth matters. Our kids environmental projects don’t need to be perfect. In fact, they don’t even need to be super successful. What matters is that our kids see themselves as taking action and making a difference, no matter how small.

Help your kids find their voice. Start with small projects with a visible outcome. Create a safe place for your kids to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Provide resources and opportunities for them to get involved and make a difference. All of these actions will not only empower our kids to take environmental action, but also allow our kids to see themselves as change-makers. 

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