Teaching your young child life-long eco-friendly habits while at home is one challenge. But making sure that teaching is reinforced when they’re outside the home is even harder.
If you’re a parent who uses daycare centers to take care of your child during the day, it may seem like you don’t have much say in how environmentally friendly the center is — but your input can reshape your child’s daycare experience to emphasize. There are some things you can do to help your child continue to learn about sustainable lifestyle habits while at daycare.
Coordinate With Your Daycare
If you have not selected a daycare center, screen the available options for clear statements about sustainability practices. If a facility does not cover sustainability on its site or in its recruiting materials, you can bet it will not teach eco-friendly behavior consistently.
But if you already have a daycare, start the discussion with a sit-down with the daycare staff. Talk about your family’s sustainability focus and how it’s important for your child to follow those same values at their center. Some centers are more receptive to parental involvement than others, so if you haven’t selected a daycare yet, make sure you choose one that welcomes your help in making eco-friendly changes.
Learning and Play Time
Children’s learning continues when they’re away from home. And if you can get your daycare on board, your child can continue to learn about the environment and sustainability while away from home. Here are a few ways to change your existing daycare program:
- Donate books to the daycare that teach about caring for our planet and active eco-friendly practices, like recycling. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a great addition to any daycare’s library and a winner for storytime.
- If the location does not have recycling bins, donate or arrange for them to be delivered by your local recycling program. Make recycling an enjoyable activity for your child at home and the daycare. A simple sorting activity can be a fun game that helps build visual perception and thinking skills while teaching kids about recycling. If your daycare doesn’t already have bins inside that are designated for recyclables, suggest that they involve the children in setting up their own recycling center. Once it’s set up, it can become a daily activity for children to make sure the right waste items get in the right bins.
- If your daycare doesn’t already take teaching time outside, suggest that they do — and offer to help. Set up some blankets on the grass and have a class all about nature and our role in the environment. Let the kids roam around the backyard or take them on a class field trip where they can collect nature items like interesting rocks, leaves, or pine cones to use in future art projects.
When snack time rolls around, it’s easy for daycare workers to give the kids whatever is easy, cheap, and makes the least amount of mess. But prepared snacks often contain unhealthy ingredients and are individually wrapped in packaging that’s hard to recycle. Send your child to daycare with snacks you pack to make sure they’re getting healthy food that meets your sustainability standards.
- Skip the prepackaged Lunchables. Instead, pack a healthier snack for your child that’s fresher, eliminates packaging waste, and saves money.
- Instead of buying pre-cut and packaged apples or clementine slices in plastic cups, use fresh fruit. Just peel or slice larger fruits to make it easy for small hands to manage.
- Package snacks in reusable containers to avoid waste. Consider making beeswax wraps and use them to wrap up your child’s snacks instead of single-use plastic bags.
Helping Out the Daycare
As a parent, you won’t have much control over the types of activities your daycare provides. But you can make requests — and donate materials and time to make it easier for them to integrate sustainable activities into their daily routine. Since most daycares are small businesses and independently owned, they’re usually operating with a tight budget and are likely to appreciate free materials and help.
- Look to your community for free resources. If your daycare needs books or toys, connect with other families in your neighborhood to see if they have unused ones that are still in good condition they’d be willing to donate.
- Offer to spend a Saturday helping the daycare create a kid-friendly garden or set up a compost bin. If they’re receptive, get together a group of parents to help. Gardening and composting both offer plenty of opportunities for learning about the environment and sustainable practices.
- Empty milk cartons, cereal boxes, and plastic bottles are all ideal for teaching kids about what can be recycled, but they can also be great materials for art projects. Offer these (clean) materials to your daycare and suggest fun craft projects that upcycle these materials into something new. Even paper bags from your grocery runs and old newspapers might be welcomed for coloring, drawing, and paper maché activities.
The Bottom Line
Even though a daycare’s main job is to look after the children, at the end of the day you’re the one paying the bill. So don’t be afraid to tell them about your sustainability preferences and see if they can help keep those goals while they’re looking after your young one. Sending your child to daycare doesn’t have to negate your hard work teaching your child eco-friendly habits.
Even if you’ve coordinated with your daycare beforehand, be prepared to perhaps get some push back from the daycare staff. If they’re new, they may not understand your intentions and may think you’re involving yourself because you don’t trust them to take care of your child properly. Let them know you do trust their child care expertise and just want to lend a helping hand.
About the Author
Emma is a digital nomad and freelance sustainability writer. When she’s not bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop, you can find her at your local beach clean-up or hiking to the nearest lookout point.