A young boy plays in the urban outdoors

How To Raise Planet-Positive Kids

Learning to protect the places we play starts with small steps to encourage outdoor activities with proactive approaches to conservation.

With all the talk about climate change, sustainability practices, and saving the environment, all these concerns are connected to one main impulse: to protect our planet for future generations. That’s right, our kids. And as important as any current step is the work of instilling an ethos of conservation in our children. We need them to improve on our efforts and help ensure this beautiful planet of ours remains intact for their kids. 

Where to start? Get those kids outside more often. One way to motivate them: Appeal to their environmental side. Being green is an effective way to disguise the push into the great outdoors.

“Children are able to learn new habits far better than adults—they’re the ideal audience for learning how to live in a more environmentally sensitive way,” says child expert Virginia Bentz, author of Quick Guide to Good Kids. “And since today’s kids will one day have to face what previous generations have done to our Earth, they should learn alongside grownups how to reverse or minimize some of the damage.” 

While Bentz notes the countless ways to help children contribute to a greener planet, she stresses that the changes must include an overall lifestyle modification that simply gets kids off the couch. “Parents must find ways to pull the plug on the TV and computer and encourage outdoor activities along with proactive approaches to conservation,” she says. This dual task—fighting screen time and impressing conservation ethics—is easier said than done. Sticking to Bentz’s following pointers can help you begin unplugging and appreciating nature. 

Model and reward responsibility

Make everyday conservation a normal part of family life by practicing what you preach. Turn out all lights and televisions or devices when you leave a room. Close the outside door each time you enter or leave the house. Turn off faucets while you brush your teeth and take quick showers. “When kids see the whole family taking these steps, they’ll grow up showing care and responsibility for their planet,” says Bentz. “Kids learn what they live. But if they need a little boost to get started, you can reinforce these lessons with a star chart. For every day your kids conserve water and power, they each get gold stars. At the end of each week, you can reward them with a small prize to further instill green habits into their daily lives.”

Find your family’s footprint

A carbon footprint is the level of impact each person leaves on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gasses he or she creates. While kids don’t directly affect the environment as much as adults do, it’s never too early to teach them about reducing their footprints. Use an online carbon-footprint calculator (like Conservation International’s) to determine how much you collectively impact the planet. “Kids can grasp concepts easier when they have hard numbers in front of them,” she says.  

Green your bookshelf

Invest in a field guide to trees, plants, birds and animals in your region, so you can pull it out and learn about your children’s collections along the trail. As well as providing information through pictures and brief blurbs, field guides are also perfect for kids’ limited attention spans.  

Bring green to school

It costs more, but stock your children’s school bags with supplies made of post-consumer recycled materials. Recycled paper and pencils are easy to find in any school supplies store, and retailers are starting to offer bags and totes made of 100 percent organic cotton. Your kids will love a little new style, and that it’s great for the environment.  

A man and child camp outdoors and blow bubbles

Get growing

Teach your children that a garden is a great way to provide yummy fruits and vegetables without purchasing produce that has been shipped and jetted all over the world. It also gets them outside. Supply spades and other tools and let the kids dig holes in the dirt and mud. Teach them how to drop seeds into the holes and make sure they spend time in the garden watching the seeds grow into plants.   

Create a compost pile together

Who needs fertilizers when garbage can create a compost heap? Designate a corner of your yard as your compost pile and teach children which items are best candidates for the heap (again, encouraging visits outside). Ask them which foods and waste products should be added. Teach them about how grass clippings, fruit peels, dead houseplants, old hunks of veggies, and other foods can be mixed with the soil to create a nutrient-rich blend to fertilize your garden.  

Make yard work a family affair

Round up a wheelbarrow, rake, and shovel and host a family yard cleanup. The kids can help pull weeds and rake grass clippings and leaves to add to the compost pile. This provides bonding time, teaches responsibility and appreciation of the natural world, and provides fresh air and exercise. Hint: Put the money you’d save on hiring it out toward a family vacation. 

Show kids that dirt doesn’t hurt, and itching isn’t forever

Don’t despair over dirty hands and clothes after a fun afternoon outdoors. Clothes and kids are washable (sometimes at the same time) and the lessons they learn from getting will last far longer than any stain. “Too many 21st-century kids lead sanitized, sedentary, indoor lives,” says Bentz. “How will they ever be motivated to save the environment if they’re afraid of its realities?”

Give boredom the hiking boot

When kids get bored, don’t pop a bag of popcorn and sit them in front of the television. Instead, head out to the nearest park for some nature appreciation. If you lead the way and set an example, they’ll follow.

Draw your kids’ attention to the wonders of nature

When you go on a family hike, encourage your children to watch the ground for interesting things they can collect along the way: an unusual heart-shaped stone, a twisted branch, a dark pine cone, a fallen leaf. Provide a bag for each child marked with his or her name so these discovered treasures can be compared and admired later.   

Additional Resources 

Need help getting your children’s outdoor activity schedule off the ground? Try one of the following sites, dedicated to just that: 

Adolescent and School Health

This CDC listing of educational and interactive websites is especially for children and teens, discussing the need to be active and offering ideas on how to get youth moving: cdc.gov/healthyyouth


No, this is not a site for enhancing your child’s vocabulary. It takes a social marketing approach toward kids aged 9-13 to encourage ’tweens to be physically active on a continued basis: verbnow.com 

Outdoor Foundation

This nonprofit established by Outdoor Industry Association is designed to inspire and grow future generations of outdoor enthusiasts by introducing youth to outdoor recreation through nationwide programming and producing research quantifying youths’ participation in outdoor recreation: outdoorfoundation.org

President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition

This program lets you and your kids track activities by states, fill out activity logs, and earn awards through fitness calculators to help families get started: presidentschallenge.org

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.