The first Earth Day, back in 1970, drew participation from more than 10,000 high schools and grade schools. Now, 38 years later, children are still interested in what they can do to save their planet. Here are some tips on how to encourage that kind of good behavior toward Mother Earth.
Show them how to conserve resources: Teach them to turn off lights, television sets, computers, game systems and other electronics when they aren't using them. Teach them not to leave the faucet running while brushing their teeth, and to take quick showers as a way to save water. The Southwest Florida Water Management District offers some other tips for kids on how to save water at www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/publications. Click on "Conserving Water," then "Waterdrops."
And the state's biggest utility, Florida Power & Light, offers tips for kids on saving energy at www.fplsafetyworld.com.
Show them the wonders of nature: Instead of a theme park or indoor play place, try taking them to a state park. Myakka River State Park near Sarasota is just an hour's drive away from the bay area, or you can canoe through Hillsborough River State Park. Or if you don't feel up to camping or canoeing, take them to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa to see how important swamps, coral reefs and estuaries are to our lives. Even a short drive can be an adventure if you take the time to point out pelicans roosting on the mangrove islands, or ospreys nesting on the light pole at the ballfield. It's also a bonus if you have some guidebooks on your bookshelf that will help identify what you see. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida (Alfred A. Knopf, $19.95) covers a lot of ground in a small volume.
Show them their impact on the planet: Virginia Bentz, author of the book Quick Guide to Good Kids, (Frederick Fell Publishers Inc., $11.95), recommends showing kids the size of their carbon footprint — the level of impact each person leaves on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gasses he or she creates. She suggests using a Web site with a carbon footprint calculator — one is at www.conservation.org (search "Carbon Calculator") — so your child can figure out how the way you live affects everyone. The same Web site offers tips on how to reduce your footprint too.
To reinforce the lesson, Bentz suggests putting up a chart with goals for children to achieve. "For every day your kids conserve water and power, they each get gold stars," she says. "At the end of each week, you can reward them with a small prize to further instill green habits into their daily lives."
After all, she points out, "since today's kids will one day have to face what previous generations have done to the Earth, they should learn alongside grownups how to reverse some of the damage, or at least minimize it."
Craig Pittman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8530.