How can we get our children to care for the environment when there’s always “more”?

When I was a child and in my early teens, we used to have our family holidays in the South of France. One of my enduring memories of these holidays is the traditional end of holiday trip to the Hypermarche. Mum and Dad would stock up on cheese and wine, shoehorning boxes of ever ripening camembert between my brother and me (the heady scent of French cheese, 30 degree heat and 10 hours in a mini metro is still imprinted in my nasal memory!) and I would spend what seemed like hours in the stationery aisles choosing pens, pencils, notebooks….the much sought after 4 tipped biro, and who can forget….the holy grail of the French supermarket “retour à l’école” aisle….the eraser pen.  

So, what has this trip down memory lane got to do with the title of this blog? Well, one of the reasons that French super markets had such a great selection of stationery was because school children, including primary school children, had to supply their own equipment.  

This is different certainly to British primary schools, in which the school supplies all the equipment that a child would need, from glue to felt tips, it’s all freely available in the classroom. At, might I add, great expense to the school.  

And this freedom to so much “free stationery” and as far of the children are concerned it is “free”, means that the children don’t really need to look after it. If it runs out, if lids are left off the glue, the felt tips dry out, if the pencils are sharpened so much, they become 2cm stubs, there are, by and large, instant replacements. How can you expect to write when you are told, “well you sharpened your pencil into non-existence, you’re not having another one.” With the best will in the world, that just doesn’t happen in a primary school – I speak from experience! 

There is always “more”. 

A UN backed report on climate change, published in August, stated that  "it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land". It is depressing stuff! 

To look after our environment, we teach our children to recycle, turn off lights, put their litter in the bin, all admiral goals, but really and truly, the only thing to stop climate change is to consume less stuff. FAR LESS STUFF. We need to stop buying and using and buying and using. And yet, how can we teach our children this when there is always more?  

From water, to electricity, to clothes, to toys, there is always more.  

Lids left off the Pritt Sticks, so it’s dried to a hardened lump of uselessness? Here’s another one! Tiny stub of a pencil because it’s been over sharpened? Yep, I’ve got another one for you! Lights left on in the hall even though no one has been in there for the last three hours? Don’t worry the lights will stay on! 

And so it goes on. And on and on.  

The other day my six year old daughter left the tap on while brushing her teeth. I asked her to turn it off as we are trying to save water.  

“Why?” she asked, “Will it run out?” 

“Errr no….but there isn’t really enough for everyone, we need to try and save it.” 

“Oh, so if we use too much then it will run out, because there isn’t enough.“ 

“Well, no, not exactly.” 

“Will it run out for the people down the road if we use too much?” 

“Er…no,” 

“But there are people in other countries that haven’t got enough drinking water.” 

“Oh, can we send ours to them if we use less?” 

“Er…no, not really.”  

“So why do we need to save water if it won’t run out and we can’t send it to the people that need it?” 

….at which point, because there is always more, my logic falls apart.   

Don’t get me wrong. I know that for many families, at times, there genuinely is “no more”. The enormous increase in the use of food banks is testament to that. But, by and large, British children have the things they need and many of the things they want.  

My young children think nothing of watching the television, being bombarded by adverts, and happily telling me, that every plasticky, noise making, light flashing ensemble is what they will be getting for Christmas. I haven’t broken it to them yet, that Santa will definitely not be bringing them the enormous Barbie house, nor the double-barrelled Nerf Gun. But, here we are….my children, the ones that are my own, and many of those in my classroom, wanting and indeed, expecting the never ending conveyor belt of “more”.  

I don’t consider any of these children greedy or ungrateful. My children love playing in the fields, on the beach. Sticks are always picked up and played with, hours are spent building sandcastles or throwing stones into the sea. Learning how to skim stones, or how powerful the tides are when a sandcastle is there one moment then two waves later it is gone.  

However, what hope do we have when the whole world is telling them, that although their lives are wonderful, fulfilled and happy, that they should want more. And, while this attitude is so pervasive, how can we teach our children that, actually what we really need to do, to really save our planet, is to consume less.  

I don’t have the answers. Perhaps, children buying their own stationery might be a start.  

So, you’ve left the lid off your eraser pen, and it’s dried out. Sorry, I don’t have a magic never ending supply of those. You’ll have to wait until your annual trip to the Hypermarche at the end of August! 

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