This is the fourth blog post in a series on ocean conservation.
When I talk with people about conservation or changes we've made in our lives, children are often my favorite audience. They listen intently and are so excited to tell me their new ideas that will help make our world a better place. They have such a huge capacity for imagining ways to solve problems. It gives me so much hope when I spend time with kids working on conservation together. If we are serious about taking care of our oceans and making changes to improve the environment, then we must take the time to educate children and lead by example.
Kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. If you want to inspire the kids in your life to take action with conservation simply equip them with tangible ways they can help or educate them on issues facing our oceans. (This blog post has several documentaries you can share with your kids.) I have been teaching my kids about problems with plastic in the ocean and we have been watching different documentaries so when it came time to do our beach clean up they were stoked! We see the plastic problem every time we visit the beach. It was easy for them to see how we could make a difference.
We also invited some friends to join us because everything is more fun with friends. We gathered our trash bags, walked down to the beach, and after reminding the kids that we would play after picking up trash, we got to work! The older kids each took a trash bag and spread out grabbing trash like it was priceless treasure. It quickly turned into a competition to see who could fill their bag the most. Some of our favorite finds of the day were toothbrushes, golf balls and at least half a dozen shoes! Everyone we saw at the beach stopped to thank us for what we were doing. It was great for the kids to see that we were an example to others as well.
If you don't have easy access to a beach then pick any outdoor space where you live. It's the most fun for kids to focus their efforts on the place that they spend the most time. Kids will be so motivated by seeing their hard work pay off. You can build on that motivation to broaden your area of focus and start helping other communities. When kids start noticing how small changes make a big impact on the world around them, that desire to help will continue to have a snowball effect.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and National Geographic websites both have great resources for kids if you'd like to further their education. I have also found that I learn even more when I teach my kids.
NOAA's "Just for Kids" website has educational articles, crafts and resources. One of our favorites is the "Make an Edible Coral Reef" activity. It teaches kids how coral makes a reef and how they give shelter to fish. It also explains why coral is in trouble and why it is dying at a fast pace. After some educational articles kids get to make a model of a coral reef with cake and frosting (what's not to like!) and then use it as teaching tool to tell friends and family what they learned about the formation of coral reefs.
National Geographic has a resource library specifically about plastic pollution. It includes six articles to help teach about the different aspects of plastic pollution all over the world. It also has three activities that will help kids wrap their minds around the depth of the plastic problem by seeing first hand how it adds up. The "Perils of Plastic" activity shows kids how quickly trash is generated after a week, one year and ten years. I like these activities because hands-on learning is one of the best ways to teach about conservation.
Please don't ever discount what kids can do to help. Remember to ask them their ideas (and listen!) and ask them what they think would be a good solution to reducing our use of plastic. There isn't a tried and true method of fixing the plastic in the ocean but reducing or eliminating disposable plastics will certainly have a positive impact. We will have a bright future indeed if we teach kids how to take care of our resources.
I don't think I could end on a better note than with Margaret Mead's quote - "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Thank you for reading this far! If you would like to read more ocean conservation, you can find the third post in this series here.