MADISON — Parents have the opportunity to teach their children every day. The traditional three Rs — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic — are critically important, but so are the other three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. While Earth Day is the perfect time to teach your children about the importance of protecting our environment and its resources, every day is a new chance to groom a generation of eco-champs.

“The environmental values we instill in our children today will have lasting effects,” says Amanda Wegner, the mother of an eco-conscious four-year-old and a media specialist with Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “And you don’t need any special training or license to help your child become a steward of the environment.”

Wegner took her daughter on her first “litter walk” when she was a toddling two-year-old. She made her daughter the family’s “light expert,” responsible for turning off the lights. And, her daughter is not shy about schooling other adults on the environmental folly of their actions.

Wegner takes the same approach to teaching her daughter about environmentalism and conservation as her own parents did:

  1. Serve as an example: The best way to teach our children is by setting a good example. Children will see the hypocrisy in your words and actions if you tell them to recycle and then throw newspapers in the trash.
  2. Educate: Children are fast learners. Use your everyday actions to explain the impacts they will have on the environment. For young children, there are great books available to help explain these concepts in ways they can easily understand. Challenge them to find information on their own or encourage them to conduct experiments to see the outcomes of their actions. If you can’t answer your child’s question, find the answer together.
  3. Empower: Give your child space to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions. Put them in charge of turning off lights or taking out the recycling; involve older children in making decisions  that have an environmental impact.

“We recycled before it was a law. We’d take walks as a family to pick up trash, and when one of my parents bellowed, ‘Were you born in a barn?’ one of us would run around the house, turning off lights,” recalls Wegner. “Those are small examples, but my parents’ actions helped mold the environmental ethic I live by today. Each day I try to do the same for my child, so the world remains a beautiful, abundant place for generations to come.”