Conservation Corner: We’re our children’s first teachers

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By Eileen Bowers
As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and other childhood mentors, we are our children’s first teachers.  The question is, what lessons do we want them to learn about living more earth-friendly lives?

Given the obsessions with the 21st century’s electronics, it’s increasingly difficult to pry them away from these devices and prevent “nature deficit disorder.”   Children prefer to “connect to electrical outlets” rather than the world around them and the health fallout is substantial.  According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 66-percent of American children can’t pass a basic physical.  The solution?  Give your kids a “green” hour every day to play freely and interact with the natural world.  If you ramp up the “fun-factor” with camping, hiking, kayaking, watching wildlife, the more inclined your children will be willing to “unplug.”

Raising a child takes a lot of “stuff” but we can minimize what we use and get the most eco-friendly products.  Before you buy, take stock of what you really need.  It may be less than you think.  By shopping at yard and garage sales or thrift stores for clothing, furniture, car seats and more, you pay a fraction of what you’d pay new.  And when your kids have outgrown or moved on from their clothes and gear, hold a yard sale, sell unwanted items to consignment stores, give them to family and friends or donate to charity.
Your child could use up to 8,000 diapers before toilet-training so what you do for diapers really comes down to what you value most.  You may prefer cloth diapers if you want to minimize the amount of trash you create, you prefer to wrap your child in cotton rather than plastic and are trying to live a “whole earth” lifestyle.  Your preferences for disposable diapers would save water, give you the disposable convenience while allowing you to express your concern for the environment in other ways.

One of the main ways children are exposed to pesticides is through the food they eat.  According to the EPA’s “Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment” children receive 50-percent of their lifetime cancer risks during the first two years of life. What can you do?  Make your own baby food from organic produce and dairy products and grow your own organic produce.  
Even though breast milk carries concentrations of organochlorine pollutants such as DDT and PCBs, it is still the best food and medicine for your baby. To provide your baby with the best breast milk possible, avoid home and garden pesticides as well as cleaning chemicals and fumes before, during and after your pregnancy and most importantly, eat healthy.  If you want or need to use formula, select one that is organic and use bottles made of tempered glass or nonleaching polyethylene or polypropylene (recycling symbols 1,2 or 5) and  avoid polycarbonate plastic bottles (recycling symbol 7).

Unfortunately, since toy manufacturers do not have to reveal whether their products contain dangerous ingredients, here’s a quick guide to safe and healthy toys and games to entertain the children in your life.   Look for PVC and phthalate-free plastics, like blocks from Brio and Lego.  Buy unfinished, solid wood toys or those finished with natural oils.  Use beeswax instead of clays and colored doughs and lastly, purchase toys from local toy manufacturers that can certify that they followed U.S. environmental, health and safety regulations.
When it comes to clothing, dress your children in organic cotton, hemp or recycled polyester.  Avoid PBDEs (fire retardants) when purchasing bedding items and look for organic cotton sheets and blankets as well as organic cotton and wool mattresses.

Keeping your children connected to the natural world is the most important lesson you can teach.  You can picnic, hike, bike, fish, bird-watch, or swim, just a few of the many options available to us all.  Or just sit back and look up at the sky, giving your child an opportunity to connect to the natural world with the added benefit of hopefully connecting with you as well.