How to get your kids to help you conserve energy
By Wendy Thomas
Ask a child to pick up their room and chances are when you check in on them, they will have forgotten the task and instead will be reading or playing with games. Kids, much like adults, need a reason or incentive to do something they don’t want to do.
So how do we, as parents, and without sounding like our parents did (“will you shut the front door? We don’t live in a barn, you know”) get our children to willingly conserve energy? Here are some ways that even the youngest child can be taught how to save energy and ultimately cut down on household expenses.
Turning off the lights
Every child should be able to turn a light or an electrical appliance off (TV, video game system, etc.) when they leave a room.
As an incentive for young children, you can create a story like we did for our kids to give the task meaning. We simply told them that there was only so much light available for the fireflies in the world and if they left lights on in rooms they were using up the available light and that meant that some poor firefly wouldn’t be able to light up this evening as a result. None of my kids wanted to every hurt a firefly and for years this story was enough for us to get them to turn on the lights.
To this day even my teenaged children will remind others about the fireflies if they come across a light left on.
Older kids can be made to understand the value of turning off lights as they leave a room by teaching them that each electrical appliance left on is an expense to the household. Explain to them that the lights cost money every month. You can even show them the electrical bill and the electrical meter attached to your house. Let them know that if you have to turn the lights out for them, each time you do that, it will cost them $1. When older kids start losing money, they tend to change their behavior quickly.
Energy Star labels
We’ve all seen those Energy Star labels on new appliances. We should all be buying those products. When it is time to purchase a new dishwasher or household appliance take your kids with you. Show them a picture of the label, explain that it means the appliance is energy-efficient and ask them to find it for you in the store. Turn the shopping trip into a scavenger hunt. The kids will be pleased that they are helping you pick out a better product. The final step, of course, is you will need to commit to buying the more energy-efficient product.
With so many toys operating on batteries, it just doesn’t make sense to use anything else but rechargeable batteries. The problem, however, with these types of batteries is they never seem to be charged when you need them.
To fix that problem make collecting the batteries a nightly or weekly task (depending on your need) that goes on the chore chart right along with clearing the table and taking out the trash.
Emphasize to the kids that traditional batteries are expensive and poison the environment when they are disposed of. You could even fold some wings out of a dollar bill, attach it to a used battery and pretend to throw it away in the trash. It’s a vivid picture that will impress the kids because that’s pretty much what is happening when you don’t use rechargeable batteries.
A little bit of tough love goes far when it comes to rechargeable batteries. If for some reason the batteries are not recharged when needed then the kids will just have to wait until they are done before they can use their toy or game. If the kids realize there are repercussions to their actions (or in this case, lack of) they will be more apt to follow the rules.
Packing a lunch
There are so many options that can be used with kid’s (and adult’s) lunches. You can buy cloth sacks, metal pails and lunch containers modeled after Japanese bento boxes (perfect for kids who can’t tolerate one food touching another). There is just no need anymore to use containers for lunches that need to be thrown out. An initial expense to buy the reusable containers will even out as they are used over and over again.
In our house we use cloth lunch bags, reusable sandwich wraps (which open up to provide an instant clean placemat), cloth napkins, and reusable juice containers. Part of the nightly chores is to clean out your lunch box and containers before you go to bed. It’s simply just another part of the routine and part of being a responsible member of a family.
For kids who love to work on puzzles, get a map of your town with the stores you frequent highlighted. Save up as many errands as you can for one trip and then have the kids plot the most efficient way to get all the errands done with the least amount of mileage.
On Sundays, we do our grocery and school supply shopping for the week. Depending on sales and coupons, I might end up going to six different area stores. My son will look at the list of what we need to buy and from which store it is located and will plot out our course. He knows he is helping me time-wise, he is helping the environment by cutting down on unnecessary driving, and to boot, he gets to solve a puzzle. How much better could that be?
Composting with worms
What kid is not intrigued by worms? Worm recycling (throwing organic compost into a bucket filled with worms, which then eat the compost) is an effective and intriguing way to recycle food wastes. We have neighbors who do this and swear by its effectiveness insisting there is no smell with the worms.
We dispose of our organic waste by feeding most of it to our chickens who then give us eggs (the ultimate in recycling).
For those who are a bit squeamish about worms or chickens, regular composting is a great way to save energy and return nutrients to the earth. There are many stories for young children about composting and what its benefits are. One example for young children is Mrs. Nosy – A Composting Story by Lily A. Goldman. It explains with colorful pictures how kitchen garbage (with the help of worms and insects) can be turned into compost to be used on gardens (even small container gardens).
When my kids were little we saw a clip on Sesame Street that showed if you ran the water while you brushed your teeth, the volume of water in the lake would drop endangering the fish in the lake. Much like our firefly story above, this made a huge impact on the kids. I mean who wants to hurt a fish just by being lazy?
Once again, because of that image, our kids, even from a young age, have never run the water while they are brushing their teeth. The point is if you can give an action a consequence a child can relate to, you are more likely to get the behavior you are looking for.
The absolute best way to get kids to save energy
Best way to get kids to save energy? Model the behavior yourself. Don’t leave rooms with the lights on, don’t let your car idle for 20 minutes before you get in it “so that it will be warm,” recycle and don’t be afraid to walk or ride your bike somewhere.
If your kids see you acting in a responsible manner toward saving energy they will naturally assume that behavior. This is one time where “do as I say while doing as I do” is a winning combination.
Wendy Thomas lives in Merrimack with her husband and six children, ages 9-17, and has been published in various regional magazines and newspapers. She writes a weekly column, Simple Thrift, for The Telegraph.