It’s Easy Being Green with Your Toddler

If your toddler is anything like mine, he turns nearly every foray into the great outdoors into a goose turd and cigarette butt scavenger hunt.  My 17mo has sharply-honed radar and eagle-like visual acuity for garbage. Y’all, it’s impressive.  His curiosity and affection for litter is, I believe, rivaled only by a certain trashcan-inhabiting muppet’s. Not too long ago, my son eagerly pawed a piece of trash at the park, and I habitually offered my usual response, “Ooooh, yucky. Please don’t pick up that trash.”  But for some reason, at that particular moment, I gulped, wide-eyed, at a sudden realization: Am I inadvertently teaching my son that litter belongs on the ground? That it’s okay to toss trash in the park? Littering sucks!

From that point on, whenever he palmed a bit of garbage I offered a different response, “Ooooh, yucky. Let’s go put that in the trash can.” I have to admit that I am still squeamish about his trash handling. I mean, I want to encourage him to responsibly dispose of trash, but at the same time I don’t want to encourage him to pick up really questionable items.  I try to scan around for those kinds of items now with the hopes of beating my rubbish-loving half-pint to the nearest receptacle. Three cheers and cartwheels for hand sanitizer!

There are so many ways to be green with your little one. Yep, there are lots of practices that many of us have adopted with an eco-friendly aim: breastfeeding, using cloth diapers/cloth wipes/elimination communication, purchasing natural/organic/sustainably produced baby and household products, buying or borrowing second-hand clothing and toys, etc. These practices are laudable and awesome, no doubt, but I want to discuss things we can do with our tots, practices that actively engage them in green living and stoke their sense of stewardship for the Earth and its creatures.

Litter pick-up is one effective and free (and, heck yeah, disgusting) way to instill a bit of eco-consciousness in our tykes. These are some of the other things we do in our family with that green goal in mind:

  • We grow stuff together! I planted flowers, herbs, and vegetables with my son this spring. (I welcome dirty hands of that variety any ol’ time.) I also let him pick out the flowers for our front-porch container gardens.
  • We water our plants together every day. And, instead of buying a watering can (made out of who-only-knows-what), we made our own by reusing items we already had on hand. (Inspired by this kick-ass pin.)
  • We feed little creatures together. We have several bird feeders and have even set up a few small squirrel feeders. We spend time watching the birds and squirrels together.
  • We visit nature nature conservation centers and animal sanctuaries.
  • We visit and support our neighborhood’s weekly farmer’s market. Can my toddler understand the value of giving money directly to the person who collected the eggs/picked the veggies/harvested the honey we’re purchasing? Of course not. But he sees this nourishment just one step removed from its origin, in all its freshness and vibrant color.
  • We recycle together. Several times each week we walk out to the giant steel recycling receptacle in our street’s back alley and take turns tossing in our recyclables.
  • We play outside. Almost every day.
  • We walk. To the library. To the coffee shop. To the park. To the gelateria. To the grocery store. And on our walks we pick and smell flowers; we feel the textures of different leaves and compare their colors.

These are small, inexpensive, yet meaningful practices. We’re far from perfect.  But we hope that by enfolding our son in the practices bulleted above, by modeling an active appreciation for the natural world, by making du jour these acts of kindness and respect,  we’re creating a lush springboard for our son’s eco-consciousness.

Tell us how you are green with your little ones!

Rhianna is off to take her toddler on his post-dinner, pre-bedtime walk through the park, where she hopes to successfully steer him far from goose turds. Seriously, what is with toddlers and goose poop? Somebody, explain it to her.

Sustainability in our home!


This is what our one bag of garbage per week looks like.  Most weeks.  Unless it’s spring cleaning time, in which case all bets are off.


And this is our trash can.  We once went a month and a half without putting it out at the curb, just to see how long it would take.  We ended up filling it up with carpet scraps after that month and a half, because a nesting soon-to-be-daddy named Ben suddenly decided that we needed to re-carpet our sunroom.  Haha.


Now, this is a photo of our recycling bin after one week. Unfortunately, in our neighborhood, recycling is only picked up every other week.  Which means that we occasionally borrow our neighbor’s recycling bins and throw our stuff in.  This idea of non-sorted recycling is fairly new to Boise and we LOVE it.  Just throw everything into the bin and put it on the curb.  Simple.

Now, you may have noticed that we don’t have any cans in our recycling bin.  This is because we put them all in our garage!  Yes, we are soda junkies in this household.  Mostly Ben, but I will admit that I can’t say no to a good cream soda. I really need to do something about my diet, it’s just . . . so . . . difficult . . .

At any rate.  Keeping our cans in the garage is a new development here.  Apparently, we can sell them back? I’m not entirely certain about that one, but I do know that we are pretty tight on money in this house and any place we can pinch a penny, we do so.

These are the trash cans that we have in our kitchen.  We used to have the white one for recycling and the blue for trash, but we were emptying our recycling bin multiple times per day, so we gave up on that idea and just made them both into recycling bins.  Much better.  These get emptied about once a day, maybe every other day.


These are our compost buckets.  We keep these on the counter next to the stove and empty them in our large, outdoor compost pit about once a week.  Unless something smelly is in there, but unless we’ve dumped fruit, it’s generally odorless.  Or at least enough so that we don’t notice it.  I am not including a photo of our compost pile outside because it’s mostly frozen at the moment (weird Idaho weather this year) and not very attractive looking.  So imagine a giant hole in the ground filled with the contents of those buckets.  And leaves.  Lots of mulched leaves. If Ben were writing this article, he would probably go into a lengthy explanation of carbon and nitrates.  All I know is that he says those words a lot and they have something to do with yard work and composting.  But we split duties like this, so if you want to know more, leave a comment and I’ll have him reply.


This is the last photo of how we try to stay sustainable around the house.  We have two trash cans every place that there is a trash can around our house–one for recycling and one for trash. It works alright, though it certainly seems to confuse guests.  Oh well.  We aren’t that social, anyway.

So, this is how we stay sustainable.  Or at least try to.  But we have several areas that could use a lot of improving! Did you notice that the majority of our trash seems to be paper products?  We both would like to move toward family cloth (I guess that’s the term for replacing toilet paper, paper towels and napkins with cloth wipes/handkerchiefs) but it seems like such a daunting goal to undertake.

Do any of you use family cloth?  How do you explain this to house guests?

Also, you may have noticed the recycle can from my bathroom has sanitary napkin wrappers in it.  I debated a long time before posting this photo, but I decided that since the majority of our readers are mothers, a period is nothing to shy away from.  I am looking for a way to nudge my menstruation into the sustainable category as well, but dh thinks that cloth pads sound disgusting.  And I don’t know anybody who has ever used them.  Also, they seem to have a very high start-up cost, and (as I before mentioned) money is very tight around here. So I’m trying to come up with some other options.

I would love to hear any comments that you, our readers have!  How do you stay sustainable?  What is the majority of your waste? Let me know!

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