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Sustainability For Kids – Teach Young Kids To Save Our Reef!

Inspire a passion for the environment in your Brisbane child!

How do you spark an interest in sustainability in very little minds?  Teaching kids about their responsibility, as the next generation is something we all want to do, but it’s easier said than done! The concept of “lowering emissions” is complex, scary and frankly, boring for little kids.  As Queensland families, protecting The Great Barrier reef is the biggest environmental challenge in our own backyard.

Luckily, it’s a place that kids can get very excited about while learning a few fun facts!  Here are our top picks of educational videos and images to spark a sense of wonder in your budding environmentalist!

Dugong on the great barrier reef

Before and after on The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is home to 1500 species of fish, 1/3 of the soft coral in the world, 411 types of hard coral, 134 different species of sharks and rays, six of the seven most endangered species of marine turtle and 30 marine mammals – including our own, endangered dugong.


Great Barrier Reef Healthy


Dead Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef from the back of a turtle!

This video is all about a “turtle eye view” of The Great Barrier Reef.  Kids can identify the “dead” reef in the video and see just why it’s so important to help save our reef.

Engaging ways to get kids thinking eco

Sustainability, waste reduction, CO2 emissions challenges…  they’re just not as interesting as mud pies and tea parties!  For young children, getting a start on environmental education will turn better environmental choices into lifelong habits.  Here’s our top web picks for explaining environmental protection and sustainability to kids:

Learning sustainability through play

Online games and resources are fun but what about good old fashioned activities at home.  Here are 20 activities you can do with your child this weekend to help them get excited about the environment.

  1. Plant a tree and research how much CO2 it will absorb in its life.  This will help kids understand the issues with deforestation
  2. Grow an edible garden and research how much CO2 is emitted by food transport.  This will help kids understand why buying local produce is important
  3. Cook a vegetarian meal and read about how much CO4 is in cow farts!  This will help children to understand that eating less meat is good for the environment (not to mention the heart!)
  4. Build your own environmentally themed board game (based on snakes and ladders) and play as a family.  Planting a tree creates a “ladder”, littering creates a “rubbish river”.  Ask kids to come up with ideas for ladders and snakes.
  5. Make clean water from sea water!
Sustainability for kids

Photo credit: Education.com

  •  Collect some seawater (or dissolve salt in water) and place in a large bowl.
  • Add a tall glass to the middle of the bowl
  • Cover loosely in plastic wrap
  • Place a stone in the middle of the wrap directly over the glass
  • Leave out in the sun.
  • The salt water will evaporate, be caught on the wrap and fresh water will trickle down into the glass. Children can drink the glass of water.

6.  Ask kids to try to mix oil and water to demonstrates what happens when there’s an oil spill in the ocean.  Ask them to dip feathers into clean water and oily water.  Wash the feathers to demonstrate how a bird’s feathers never really recover from an oil spill.  Talk about where the oil came from and where it was going.  Talk about ways to reduce the amount of oil we use.

7. Create a compost bin or worm farm.  This is a great “disgusting, dirty” activity – so kids will love it.  Put your child in charge of emptying the “scraps” bin with you and then use the soil you create to grow veggies.  This will teach your child about the “circle of life” as well as being responsible for environmental choices.

8. Allow kids to create a “sugar cube” mountain.  Mix blue food dye with tepid water and gently pour over the mountain to demonstrate “erosion”.  Ask them for examples where they’ve seen water create erosion.

9. Get some dry ice from your local camping store and place some chips in warm water to watch the CO2 escape.  This will allow them to visualise emissions and see just how much gas escapes each block of ice.

10. Go foraging for coral at your local beach and then use food dyes to create your own “coral garden” at home.  Note how the “dead coral” on the beach is white and grey in colour.  Google the kind of coral you’ve found and what its original colour was so you can recreate it at home.

11. “Weigh smoke” – take a small stick and weight it, burn it carefully.  Once the ashes are cold, weigh the ashes.  Talk about how much moisture and “trapped greenhouse gasses” were in the stick.

12. Create an ecosystem in a tank or container.  Using insects, help your child understand what is needed to sustain life.  Discuss temperature, food, water, air and who is responsible for making sure that the little creatures survive.

13.  Create a picture book or social story about all the ways that CO2 emissions happen (energy production, transportation, household use etc) and ask your child to illustrate it.  To finish the story, ask your child to come up with ideas for minimising CO2 waste.

14. Go through the bottles and containers in your fridge and check which are recyclable.  Get your child to “design” a label for the recycling bin and then be the boss of which jar goes where.  Demonstrate to your child that a little education makes him a leader in environmental activities.

15. Allow the child to “mix” his own bath (with careful supervision of course). Talk about what would happen if the water was too warm or cold.  Use ice-cubes to demonstrate what happens to ice-caps as the water warms up.  Close doors and windows and allow steam to build up in the room.  Use the temperature in the room to illustrate “warming air”.

16.  Fill a balloon with marbles (as many as you can get in there!) and then ad a cup of water.  Place in the freezer overnight.  In the morning, count how many marbles are “defrosted” in the cool morning air and how much quicker they defrost as the day heats up.  Get your child to imagine that the marbles are now all ‘homeless” as they don’t have their ice-cap to live on anymore.  Ask him how he feels and to come up with some ideas for slowing down the big melt.

17. Create a “bag” of CO2 gasses by blowing up a balloon.  Count how many breaths are needed to blow up one balloon.  Empty the balloon near a tree and then read up on how much CO2 that kind of tree absorbs in a life time.  Use this to introduce the concepts of respiration and photosynthesis.

18. Dig to the bottom of the toy box for a long-forgotten toy.  Get your child to come up with five ways it could be used in a new game.  Get her to create a game around the toy. Use it to model future games around recycling – including craft projects from old bottles and jars.

19. Take a trip to the dump!  Head out to your nearest recycling centre and take a look at where they rubbish goes.  Ask the “rubbish man” what happens to the rubbish once it leaves your house.  If you can, take a look at the mountain of landfill at the dump.  Get them to imagine what is in there.  Talk about items that shouldn’t end up in landfill and how we can recycle and reuse.

20. Take a garbage bag for a walk on a beach or by a river.  Pick up the garbage as you go. As you find each piece of rubbish, discuss where it may have come from and how it found its way into the water.  This will help kids be conscious of littering.

Teaching sustainability to kids is a task that lasts a whole childhood, if you want it to be a practice that lasts a life time.  Have you got any tips on sustainability for kids?  We’d love to hear them!

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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