In the Right Camp: How to Get Kids to Go Green


We’re shelling out the big bucks again for summer camps. It’s the price we have to pay to keep our city slickers off the sofa and away from the hypnotic plasma. Among many other attributes, camps can instill a deeper appreciation of the great outdoors. But as a wise person once said, wherever you go, there you are. To mold our children into lifelong green citizens, we need to get them into the right camp at home.

Welcome to Camp EcoSalon
, a happy and wholesome family retreat where little campers learn to turn off lights, throw peach pits into the compost bucket, and control urges to print out every cool graphic they encounter on the computer. Care to register? Pack some biodegradable sunscreen and climb aboard the hybrid bus where there’s a lot to learn. It isn’t easy. In my day, the biggest environmental warnings were stopping litter and forest fires. Kids of today, even more than scouts of yesterday, must be prepared. The planet depends on it.

- Checking in and out

Establish daily green routines with kids at morning and at night. The lights go on for bathroom duty and off when kids are done. Lessons on their dental hygiene, such as low sugar toothpastes like Tom’s of Maine, should also include turning off faucets when brushing. Tell them to reuse cotton towels to save on laundry. At my house, we hang ours over the banister to dry for the next shower. At bedtime, instruct kids to throw only dirty clothes into the hamper, not just garments they are too lazy to hang up (so that’s how Sydney’s new silk dress got into the dryer…hmm!). Having kids help out with laundry is a good way to demonstrate the demands of the dreaded chore and encourage them to lessen their own hamper loads.

- Camp Gear

Can that school backpack be used again? If it’s broken, try to fix it. If it’s not broken resist the urge to buy a fresher one. It’s good to get kids thinking about what can be reused. It’s also good to think about what can be passed down to a sibling or a friend. Hand-me-downs are an ideal way to recycle clothing and athletic gear, such as soccer cleats, shorts and bikes. We give clothes the kids outgrow to their friends or to the needy. Garage sales can leave kids scarred when they must part with sentimental toys. I try to get mine to trade something old with something old. They can pick out a book someone else is getting rid of in exchange for parting with items they no longer use. When buying new clothing, introduce your kids to eco-friendly organic cotton garments at sites like Hanna’s Dream and Ecologique, which sell clothing for kids and adults.


If you can swap your gas guzzler for a hybrid, by all means do so. It sends an important message to kids about your commitment to saving on fuel and money. And did you know hybrids come with stickers that give access to carpool lanes in some cities? You can get where you are going faster while burning less fuel. Carpool to school, camp and parties when possible. Let your kids experience public transportation with you, riding the bus or train to events. Make the most of bike riding! You can bike on a safe path to run errands or see a movie.

- Nature Time

Bonding with your brood doesn’t have to involve exorbinant consumption (except of course for s’mores round the campfire). Try to schedule low-budget, planet-friendly activities such as organic gardening, camping at state parks or picnics at the beach.

Add good old arts and crafts by bringing sketch pads for still life studies or journals for aspiring young poets. Bring digital cameras on a hike and encourage them to capture nature at work. You can start little ones off with inexpensive green cameras, such as the Sakar Ecotrends camera ($60) at Circuit City. Sure, Disneyland is a blast but time with you stargazing around the campfire will hold a special place in their hearts.

For daytime outdoor adventures, teach your kids about global warming and ozone dangers and protect them with a good, biodegradable sunscreen, like the new SPF 85 Ultra Sheer sunscreen from Neutrogena. Hats are also great added protection at any age.

-Green Grub

I began taking my kids to the Sonoma Farmer’s Market on Tuesday nights when they were little. We loved sampling local produce and buying flowers and getting rub-on tattoos at the face painting booth. It’s a great education on local sustainablility (the food, not the tatoos).

Check out Local Harvest to find a market near you. In terms of packing lunches for kids, give them balanced meals with as many fresh produce items as possible, like apple slices and carrot and celery sticks or a small, tasty green salad to balance the sandwich and salty things.

At Feed Our Kids Well you can pick up wonderful recipies, including play date snacks, such as homemade nachos with baked chips, organic salsa and low-fat cheese. Pop organic popcorn on the stove with oil, and toss in nutritional yeast for added value.

I think Supersize Me drove home the message about large sugary drinks and childhood obesity. Always offer good water as a beverage. If on the go, pack them Sigg bottles with water or opt for organic, low-sugar lemonade or other fruit drinks. Teach them to shun plastic disposables. And when they crave treats from the family pantry, suggest Cliff Z Bars or organic dark chocolate over packaged processed goodies with loads of nasty trans fats.

-Lights Out

For some little ones, lights out at bedtime means keeping a night light on till dawn. If you must, try a low energy choice such as the LED Osram Lunetta Night Light ($18.95) at Neco.

In terms of their personal environments, kids are allergy prone and it’s good to avoid carpet and clutter in the bedroom. Explain to them why you select healthy organic cotton sheeting that breathes instead of cheap poly linens made with bad chemicals. I use dust mite protection, including encasing our mattresses, with covers from Allergy Buyers Club.

And pillows should be hypoallergenic and not too dense. When you think about how much time we spend in bed, you realize it’s important to make good choices. Teaching kids to pick up after themselves in their rooms is a taxing yet rewarding job. We all know taking responsibility for your own space is related to caring for the community at large. Some experts suggest clean up games and reward charts as opposed to Mary Poppins’ surefire spoonful of sugar method. I find good old threats work well as kids age. “No made bed, no Gilmore Girls!”

-Camper Spirit

There’s nothing like a round of Kumbaya to bring out the spirit. Someone’s recycling my lord, Kumbaya… You get the picture. Follow up words with action. Let your kids see you taking part in community work, volunteering to raise money for the Child Abuse Prevention Center, doing a shift serving at the local food bank, joining a beach clean up. It’s the most effective way to spur them on to doing their part for the planet.

My girls have held bake sales and set up lemonade stands for their pet cause, the San Francisco SPCA. Some kids use babysitting money or allowance to donate to a good cause. For ideas on how to inspire your own children, visit Blossom International.

Happy camping!

Image: shoothead

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Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.