Eco-conscious parents can be overwhelmed by the amount of plastic-filled, extravagantly packaged, and ultimately unnecessary items that are commonly marketed for babies and toddlers. But parents need not despair: not only is it possible to avoid the wastefulness of a commercialized childhood, it is also easier than you think to instill your Earth-friendly values in your budding activists.
Below are ten ways to reduce your toddler’s ecological footprint. And instead of simply making these decisions for your toddler, involve her in the process. Explain in simple terms why your family chooses to live sustainably. She may not understand every detail, but your words and actions will help establish a foundation of lifelong learning and environmentally conscious habits.
1. Use Cloth Diapers
If you didn’t discover the joy of cloth diapering at the birth of your child, it’s not too late. Collective wisdom preaches that cloth diapers make potty training easier and faster. And, if you do cloth “right,” your child will have less of an environmental impact than if she stayed in disposables.
2. Make (or Imagine) Toys, Don’t Buy Them
Toddlers don’t need the plastic bells and whistles that are made in China and advertised on television. Your one year old will be just as happy banging on a pot as she is hitting a store-bought drum. Your two year old doesn’t need the latest toddler gadget when there are sticks and rocks to play with.
When you make toys with your toddler, they learn the value of repurposing materials. When you play pretend, you are allowing your child to flex his creative and cognitive muscles, work through tough emotions, and develop large and fine motor skills.
3. Buy Secondhand or Look for Hand-Me-Downs
Toddlers (and babies) move so quickly through developmental stages – and clothes – that it makes little sense to spend the money on anything new. Look on Freecycle, shop craigslist, garage sales, and thrift shops, and graciously accept the generosity of friends – then pass it on.
4. Give Clutter-Free Gifts
Instead of gifting stuff, give a toddler an experience. Inspire a love of aquatics or animals by gifting a toddler a year’s admission to an aquarium, nature center, or zoo. Introduce a hobby by giving your toddler a month of gymnastics or music classes. Resist the urge to give something disposable; give something that will last.
Spend more time outside with your little ones. Be creative with arts, crafts, and raw/repurposed materials. Get out from in front of the boob tube and the computer. Live a little.
6. Don’t Rely on Prepackaged Foods
Skip the boxed crackers, the individually wrapped bags of fruit treats. Give your toddler’s growing body the more healthy nutrition found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Make your foods from scratch, together with your toddler.
7. Buy Organic and Local Foods
Food bought locally (and in season) does not have to be transported, extensively packaged, or frozen for long periods of time. Organic food does not contribute as heavily to the overload of chemicals and pesticides in our environment. Plus, taking your toddler to the farmers’ market is almost always a fun and educational experience.
8. Skip the Assorted Useless Plastics
Sippy cups. Toys. Plastic plates. Toys. Plastic silverware. Toys. Beds. Oh – and toys. Many of the plastic things marketed to and for toddlers can be replaced with suitable (or superior) substitutes made of wood or metal. The added benefit is that wood or metal objects will likely be more durable and can be passed on from child to child or between generations.
9. Teach Your Toddler the Three R’s
It is easier than you think to teach a toddler how to separate trash. My son has known where the “plastic recycling” and “paper recycling” are and what goes in them since well before he was two years old (we keep the rest of the recycling in a less child-friendly area). He loves the responsibility of putting things in the recycling bins, and he also loves accompanying us to the recycling drop-off. It been an excellent way to introduce him to the concept of reducing and recycling our waste.
10. Help Your Toddler Be a Role Model for Others
Don’t underestimate the powerful influence your toddler can have on others. Toddlers love to share their knowledge through example or through dramatic play. If your child attends a daycare or other group setting, find ways for her to share what she does to care for the environment. Help create a school recycling center. Grow a class garden. Bring homemade snacks instead of prepackaged ones whenever it is your turn. You can do more than foster a respect for our Earth in your own children, you can help your kids be the light for others.
Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son, and she is one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. One of sustainablog’s writers published a guest post there, so once you’re done reading Dionna’s thoughts on reducing your child’s footprint, head on over to find out some of Mary Beth’s thoughts on cloth diapers.