“Why?” This is a question I am asked approximately twice every five minutes when in the company of my three-year-old niece, Ella. It used to annoy me at first, I’d get increasingly frustrated, and conversations would often go like this:
Ella: “Why are you having a cup of tea?”
Kate: “Because I want to.” Walks out of the room.
But now, I’ve begun to accept the whys. I still shut down a conversation if asked why I’m having a cup of tea (it’s my right as a tea-loving aunty), but I embrace her questioning, admire her inquisitiveness, and take advantage of her need to understand the world.
I believe the younger generation is the answer to our environmental mess; they’re already proving their worth. We have a lot to learn from them, and they have a lot to learn from us. Now I actually don’t mind if my niece asks ‘why?’.
One of the first times I realised this, was when my husband and I first showed Ella our compost bin. She was fascinated by the worms and overwhelmed by the idea that they (plus micro bacteria she cannot see, but try explaining that to a three-year-old) eat our food scraps and turn them into soil. Ella stood by the compost bin for ages, wanting to get as close as possible. She asks to see the compost bin whenever she visits. Meanwhile, around 50 percent of the waste Australians put in their rubbish bins, could have been composted. While my niece is ogling at the magic of bacteria and worms breaking down her food scraps, adults can’t even buy a compost bin or bother to sort their waste into a separate container. Maybe we need to adopt the inquisitiveness and excitement for ‘magic’ that little ones do?
I had the honour of visiting Ella’s preschool a few months ago, to talk about recycling. The class sat on the mat, wide-eyed and arms crossed, like perfect eco-angels. They knew what a compost bin was (sometimes even 20-year-olds I meet have no idea), they answered correctly when I asked where our rubbish goes, and they joined me in agreement when I said it’s best to not have any rubbish in the first place, even recycling.
These kids nearly schooled me.
Once I saw their short attention spans kicking in, I finished up with recycling tips, and avoided the depressing fact that China has stopped buying New Zealand’s recycling, and we’re in a nationwide recycling crisis. Their innocent ears needed positivity.
To this day, I hear the preschool are washing every yoghurt pot, squishing every milk bottle, and asking their parents for a sandwich, sans-plastic wrap. This is the youngest generation I’ve encountered, and they’re already kicking butt. But what about the teens?
I spent this morning on a Skype call with three teenagers in California; they interviewed me for their group assignment about ethical fashion. This year alone, I’ve talked to three high schools about sustainable fashion, and I can’t count the number of school projects I’ve been interviewed for about sustainability. This alone says they’re watching, caring, and changing the future. I once witnessed a student make a whole outfit out of second-hand materials, dyed with beetroot in her own home, and designed in a way to reduce the amount of washing required (no seams ending at the armpits to stop smells). Turns out the teens have begun to change the world too.
I believe education is the way out of our environmental mess. One of the biggest impacts we can have is using our reusable coffee cups or saying no to a straw. It’s teaching our children how to clean up after themselves, and I’m not talking about yelling at them to clean their bedrooms. It’s answering the question ‘why’, rather than rolling our eyes.
The next generation is listening. They have their ears open, eyes focused, and their whole lives ahead of them.
Want to help cultivate young eco-minds? Here are some bedtime stories that will help do just that:
- “My Green Day” by Melanie Walsh
- “The Big Green Book” by Fred Pearce
- “Topsy and Tim: Go Green” by Jean and Gareth Adamson
- “It’s Earth Day!” (Little Critter) by Mercer Mayer
- “Leon and the Lion Learn of Love” by Holly Rose