Eco-Friendly Traditions to Pass Down to Our Children

by Cassandra R. Elias

Eco-FriendlyEarth Day rolls around once a year, but our decisions and actions affect the planet all-year long.

We encourage you to create or plan a tradition each month, make it more eco-friendly and pass that new tradition on to your kids.

Here's a list of suggested projects for each month to get you started. Share your suggestions for turning family traditions green in the comments.

Celebrate the Earth All-Year Round

January: Create Yearly Tradition

As the new year is ushered in, make one of your new traditions a "green resolution" to work on as a family. My own this year is to remember to bring my reusable shopping bags to the store. By combining forces and memories, the groceries come home in our own bags. Next year we'd like to focus on supporting local businesses. What will your family choose for a yearly green project?

February: Love the Earth

Valentine's Day is great for lovers and families but the environment thinks otherwise. Valentine's Day can be bad news. Here's how you can take advantage of the holiday and "love" the earth at the same time.

  • Send e-cards or make your own from reusable or recycled materials around the house
  • Make your own gifts
  • Buy fresh, local and organic produce and flowers when possible

March: "Green" Spring Cleaning

Enlist your kids' help as you conquer your clutter, dismantle the dust-bunnies, and make the house sparkle and shine, naturally. Pass on the tradition of spring cleaning the earth-friendly way.

April: Celebrate Earth Day

Plant a garden for Earth Day. Get out there, build memories, grub together and later reap and eat the fruits and vegetables of your labor. Even a small garden space cuts your family's carbon footprint.

Do you have your own garden? Do you go to a community garden? Kids love to get their hands in the dirt -- do you let them?

May: An Eco-Friendly Mother's Day

Add a creative and eco-friendly twist to your celebration each year. Make your own cards, gifts and then enjoy an activity with mom. Whether it's homemade bath salts, a matchbox locket or an freshly sprouted herb garden, mom will love this gift from the heart. Of course, the kids can help out and are encouraged to do so. Over time they'll know just how to best treat you on Mother's Day!

June: Travel Green

Vacations and eco-friendly don't always go hand-in-hand, but with planning and preparation you can "green up" your travel plans. One of the easiest ways to lower your vacation's impact on the earth is to take a "stay-cation" and explore the sights within a couple hundred miles of home (or even in your own backyard).

Other ways to make vacations green include:

  • Bringing your own water bottle and hot drink travel cup.
  • Snacking on local fruit instead of junk food. Pick up produce at the local farmer's market and picnic on the beach.
  • When you eat out, choose a local restaurant instead of a big retail chain.
  • Try to schedule overnight stays at green or eco-friendly hotels where available.
  • Forget room service and pass on changing the sheets, towels and soaps each day.

The biggest gift to Mother Earth is to get your children involved in your choices so they can make earth-friendly vacations part of their life in years to come.

July: Going Green Backyard Barbecue

According to a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, on July 4th in the U.S. at least 60 million people grill up a holiday meal. That's a lot of charcoal and gas! You can make your backyard barbecue more eco-friendly with these easy changes:

  • Serve meals on reusable plates and use real utensils, washable linens and napkins rather than plastic or paper products. If you have a large crowd that is bigger than your stash of plates and utensils, go for items made from easy to compost and biodegradable materials.
  • Repel insects naturally with strongly scented citronella or geranium candles and torches.
  • Shop for meat and poultry at your local farmer's market. Wild-caught Alaskan or Canadian salmon works well on the grill and are a sound choice.

August: Back to School Sort and Share

Hand-me-downs come in many shapes and sizes. It doesn't matter if it's clothing, furniture, appliances or toys. Sort your supplies and share the bounty with a younger sibling, donate or sell at a consignment shop.

Prevent the "I only get left-overs" syndrome by encouraging a younger child to choose clothing and school supplies from the sort pile that they want (within reason). Then shop together for special new garments and goodies. A couple new t-shirts in lime green might be all it takes for your younger child to feel as if the wardrobe has been personalized.

A toy or book, lovingly passed from child to child can convey pleasant memories as well as be a thrifty and eco-friendly way to meet needs.

September: Green Pet Month

Get out the natural dyes! All pets "go green" in September. We're just kidding. Instead, start a tradition that helps your pet become a more eco-friendly family member. Consider a pet from the pound and reduce unwanted animals by spaying or neutering. Look for sustainable or organic beds and supplies. Your kids can get into the green theme with these ideas:

  • Turn scrap yarn and fabric you might otherwise toss into pet toys.
  • Make homemade pet treats and learn what foods to NOT recycle to your pets.
  • Take your pets for a walk -- on a leash to lessen damage to the environment
  • Raise a double-duty pet like a chicken (for eggs) or a rabbit (droppings make good compost).

October: Going Green on Halloween

Instead of heading out to trick-or-treat, throw your own Halloween bash. Give out prizes for the best homemade or recycled costume. Your decorations can be from nature (gourds, pumpkins, straw and dry flowers). Instead of those old-fashioned bulbs, light up the night with strings of LED lights.

Have a snack buffet and fill up on seasonal treats like apples, popcorn, hummus and pita chips, carrots and dips, fresh apple cider, bat-shaped cookies and witch's fingers.

Activities might include painting pumpkins, reading scary stories, bobbing for apples, and going on a "flashlight hunts" in the yard for hidden Halloween surprises.

November: Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving

Go local this Thanksgiving. Focus your meal around buying foods produced in your area, try to minimize travel. Perhaps invite the neighbors over for Thanksgiving and gather with the family on a less-traveled day. Engage the kids in making eco-friendly decorations.

With supplies you can find around the house and a little imagination, you can make great eco-friendly Thanksgiving decorations and have a lot of fun.

December: Make Eco-Friendly Holiday Decorations

There is no shortage of environmentally-friendly ideas for this joyous time of year. One suggestion is to string unsalted popcorn garlands for the tree. Once you take down the tree, hang the garlands outside for the birds to enjoy. Once eaten, bring in the strings or cut into "nest-sized" pieces that the birds can work into their nests later in the year.

What kinds of traditions are percolating for you now? Share them with us!