Last week I went into a class of 3rd graders to give a presentation on plastics in the environment. My experience with Mrs. Nabors 3rd graders was so powerful, I thought I would share it with you.

If there is one thing that was proven to me time and time again during our brief 45 minute lesson, it’s that our youth care, and they care deeply – about everything. They absorb information, seek answers and are not afraid to ask difficult questions. What’s even more, they fully accept these facts and answers, and look for ways to solve the problem. They want to personally chip in and do their part to help. After speaking with this classroom of 3rd graders in the Denver Metro Area on plastic pollution, it became very clear to me on why it is important to educate our youth on this issue.

It’s their world.

Ultimately, it’s their world, and they deserve to know what they’re entering into. We as adults always say we want our youth to be even better than we were. How can they be better if they are not aware of the problems being handed down to them? Our way of life, our obsession with consumerism is not sustainable. If you are unaware as a parent, you are (without even knowing it) teaching your child that same naiveness. Every time you purchase something wrapped in plastic packaging, you’re teaching your child that it’s okay to consume this way. These young minds are learning from your behavior. We can’t expect them to know better if we don’t take responsibility for our own actions and realize our behavior influences them, and will influence them for the rest of their lives.

Educate their Parents

3rd grade girl holding up her UnEARTH Netted Bag to the camera!

When speaking with this third grade class, I was shocked to find that many of their questions revolved around how to talk to their parents about making change without getting into trouble. “My mommy buys the groceries and I don’t have any say. How do I get her to stop buying water in plastic bottles?”

I was taken back. Most of my work involves rationalizing with adults on why we need to make better decisions. It had not occurred to me that our children do not have the power to make purchasing decisions, and will not have this power for roughly 10 years. By the time these 3rd graders get the opportunity to make their own choices about what and how they consume, the world could be a very different place. We have a duty as parents to listen and learn from our kids, for the sake of their future.

Allow conversation

So what can we as parents do to help our kids? Listen, and even more allow conversation. They may come up to you and say something like, “this anti-plastic lady came to our class today and taught us that over 60 BILLION pounds of plastic is created each year and we have to stop using shampoo!” and while that is not exactly the angle I was aiming for, it creates an environment for discussion.

Do not be afraid to ask your children questions, and brainstorm with them about ways your household can be better. If they are at the store asking you to stop buying plastic water bottles, it’s okay to ask them why, and challenge them think of what you could do instead. This could turn into a fun opportunity for learning together – maybe purchase a non-plastic reusable water bottle to show them you take them seriously, or watch a documentary with them to encourage education.

Mrs. Nabors 3rd Grade Class during lesson on plastics

Empower them to make change

All too often, people see that change needs to be made, and think they are not important enough or powerful enough to be a part of that change. We do not want to instill this type of thinking in our children. Raise them to understand perseverance during difficult times, and to feel empowered to speak out when necessary, and fight for what they believe is right. Raise them to fight for their future, and provide them support when they feel empowered to take action. When you provide kids the opportunity to apply their education to real world scenarios, we are empowering them to be the change that the world needs. You are never too young to make a difference.