Kids are naturally simple beings. You witness this when their tiny faces light up as they are thrown in the air and dangled down by their feet, when they are allowed to go to the pool, when mom and dad take them to the beach to make angels and castles in the sand, or when grandma and grandpa come into town with grandma’s famous cookies and grandpa’s teddy bear hugs. You can also see it when they scream in excitement as they chase each other around a tree. When was the last time you enjoyed a chase around a tree?
I remember loving the homemade fruit popsicle my mom used to make when I was a kid. She used to make them in an ice tray. I never cared whether it was store-bought or brand-named. All I cared about was: it was sweet and cold — the perfect snack on a hot summer day.
Kids really are simple creatures until we bombard them with material objects and the idea that they need more stuff to be happy and cool-looking. This is why it is best and easier if you start your kids down the simple and natural path when they are young. This way you will not have years of developed materialism to fight. But whether you are starting early or late here are 10 ways you can begin nurturing simple and nature-loving kids:
- Talk to them. This is my most important advice because you do not want to appear as a completely irrational dictator. Kids are more sensible than most of us adults give them credit for. They actually can understand concepts quicker than most adults because they have less social norms, opinions, and complexes roaming around in their heads. So, explain to them why you are choosing simplicity over materialism. Discuss your values. Show them pictures and short films about the destruction of earth and humankind as well as other topics that are important to you. Give them the facts and not your opinions and then ask them questions like: What do you think? How do you feel about this? What would you do? What is your personal responsibility in all of this? The point is to get them thinking, analyzing, questioning, and taking personal responsibility. Do not forget to tailor the wording to the ages of your children. You want them to understand what you are saying and not be intimidated by your vocabulary otherwise they will shut down and that would defeat the point of this step. Also remember to teach instead of preach. When they share with you their opinions and ideas really listen to them and be open-minded. Respect their views. It is not always easy for kids to talk to adults. So create a family value of respecting the opinion of everyone.
- Be an example. This is really important. Do not let your kids think you are doing this to be a miser or to punish them. Do your part. Recycle, donate, volunteer, decrease spending on yourself, cook fresh food more often, decrease your time in front of the TV, computer, on the phone, or at work. Remember one of the reasons for simple living is to have more time to spend with your family, not more time to spend in front of the TV. So show your kids that there are personal benefits to simple living like more time with their parents.
- Entertain them with stories, books, TV shows and movies that illustrate simple living concepts. As kids get older they become more impressionable and the words of their parents become less sacred. So, it is advisable that you find outside media that shows simple living concepts to be fun, inspiring, worthwhile and beautiful. This will help cancel out what they see in school and TV shows. Remember that life outside of your house is different. Life on the outside is based on consumerism. So, be conscious of the difficulties your kids face when leaving the house.
- Go simple gradually. Do not go from saying Yes all the time to No all the time. Such drastic measures are unnecessary unless you are in a financial bind. Also, do not go on a rampage, throwing away every toy your child has. How would you feel if someone came into your house and threw away everything without your consent? Give yourself a time frame that you know your kids can handle without any trauma. It can be a year or 2 years. During that time slowly eliminate what your kids do not need — de-clutter their toy closet. You can make it a family event. This way your kids will feel more in control of what is being eliminated from their home.
- Homemade toys. Make your kids homemade toys. You can also get your kids into the spirit by having them help you and encouraging them to make a few toys for you. I recently went to visit my cousin and her little ones in Atlanta. What I found cute was her youngest would rather play with an empty cardboard box than his store-bought toys. He spent half an hour pushing and pulling, drooling and tumbling into the box. His antics became the topic of our adult conversation.
- Create a project or presentation for your kids to do. Give your kids a topic and have them create an essay, project or presentation based on this topic. Topics can be as easy as what does simple living mean to you or as complex as develop a new philosophy and movement that focuses on healing the environment. If your kids are artistic or you want to get their artistic juices flowing, have them create a song, dance, short play, puppet show (homemade), or mini movie based on a simple living topic of your choice. You can even get your neighbors and family members involved. Consider doing this during summer vacation when kids have an excess of free time. The reasons for this step are to have your kids do their own research and to have them come up with their own conclusions and solutions. Some things you do learn better on your own. For more project and presentation topics, please click 22 Project and Presentation Ideas for Kids on Simple Living.
- Teach your kids how to spend money. It is never too early to teach your kids how to spend money wisely. So, on your next shopping trip, take your kids along and let them get involved with your shopping process. Question them on their choices, needs and thinking. Explain to them how you shop and why you choose certain items over others. Allow them to question your methods. Together you can grow, learn and create a better shopping system.
- Garden. Create a vegetable and fruit garden in your yard. Get your kids involved with the process of planning what to plant, tilling the soil, planting, picking and cooking. This has so many benefits, a few being: learning the gift of hard work, becoming acquainted with the taste of fresh local food, more sun (vitamin D), connecting to Mother Earth and understanding the amount of hard work and resources it takes to put food on their plates every day.
- Take your kids on nature field-trips. Youth is the best time to teach someone to love Mother Nature and her simplicity. I am sure you know how difficult it is to take a born and raised city gal or boy on a camping trip. Do not make that mistake. Raise your kids within the simplicity of Mother Nature. Take your kids horseback riding along a mountain trail, camping in the woods, hiking through lavender fields, bike riding up and down the green hills of Ireland, flower picking in Provence, sailing the Mediterranean Sea, or on a simple hay ride at a local park.
- Create traditions based off of simple living concepts. Some examples are:
- Have a big family picnic or barbecue at the park every year on the same week to celebrate the arrival of spring, summer, fall, and /or winter. You can time it to the summer and winter solstice or the March and September equinox. If you are open and adventurous, you can research the foods, games, and rituals ancient tribes ate and performed during these events and then tailor it to fit your modern needs. And don’t forget that several festivals occur around the world to celebrate these seasonal events.
- Create a family dinner out of solely the food you grow in your own garden every Sunday. Turn off the TV and the computers and get your whole family involved in the picking, cleaning, cooking, and the setting of the table. This is the time for the entire family to gather in the kitchen around the kitchen table speaking harmoniously about life, love, goals, and ideas. The most important advice I will always give parents within and outside the realms of simple living is to enjoy their children while allowing their children to enjoy them. Their youth pass by in a flash.
- Plan trips with your kids to local outdoor farmer’s market weekly or monthly during spring, summer and fall. Allow them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to eat that day. You can even create a picnic lunch from what you buy at the farmer’s market and take your kids to the beach, park, or mountains for a picnic of fresh produce.
- Book your family every summer into a small minimalist home on the beach, in the mountains, or overlooking a valley. It should be a week or two of no TV, computers, video games, or cell phones (except for emergencies). The purpose is to live as simply as possible while spending time with each other and in nature. This will help bond your family together and teach them to appreciate the modern conveniences we usually take for granted.
There are many options available to parents. Be creative, talk to other simple, minimal and green living parents, and search the free ads and magazines found in libraries and supermarkets. The key is to have fun and enjoy being in the presence of each other while educating your kids on the importance of simple living. Wishing you lots of smiles and laughter!