Sustainability is a buzz word that is everywhere these days. But what does it actually mean?

Simply put, practicing sustainability ensures that the resources we use today are available for future generations to use as well. As an outdoor mama, I believe that it is our responsibility to teach children about sustainability, and educate them on biodiversity and conservation.

Without a doubt, one of the best ways in teaching sustainability to young children is leading by example through outdoor exploration.

Teach Children Sustainability through Leading by Example

As a former member of the Canadian Forces, leading by example is the form of leadership that I am most familiar with and believe to be most effective. There is an old proverb that rings true here - monkey see, monkey do. Children are so observant and learn by our example. If we contradict our words and actions, it confuses them, like it does for most adults. Therefore, living an authentic lifestyle that aligns with best sustainability practices is key in teaching our children how to best protect our Earth.

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Teaching sustainability concepts begins with leading by example and engaging in outdoor exploration activities.

Best Outdoor Exploration Activities for Teaching Sustainability Concepts

Begin teaching sustainability to your children by explaining what sustainability means and why it is important. Use age-appropriate language to help them understand the concepts. For example, you could explain that sustainability means taking care of our Earth so that we can all continue to enjoy its beauty and resources for many generations to come.

Forest Walks & Hikes

I can't think of a better way to encourage engagement with the environment than with a walk through the forest. Take a walk in a park or forest and point out different plants and animals. Talk about how they contribute to the ecosystem and how humans can help protect them.

Sylas is at the age now where I make sure that I allow him to get out of the baby carrier and roam around. He still wants to pick up everything and put it in his mouth -- an important thing to remember is that we don't remove anything from our environment. While it may be ok to pick up a rock and stick, we always make sure that he puts it back down at some point. And a big no-no is that we never hurt plants, whether it's a house plant or an outside plant.

While walking, you can discuss concepts such as biodiversity, ecological balance, and the importance of preserving natural habitats. Or you can take the time to observe in silence and listen. It's all about you and your little one getting the most of out this adventure and learning time.

Exploring & Observing Natural Surroundings

Engaging in outdoor exploration activities is an excellent way to teach children about sustainability. By observing plants and wildlife in natural environments, children can gain a deeper understanding of the interconnections within ecosystems and the importance of preserving them.

Encourage your children to explore their local natural surroundings, such as parks, forests, or nearby nature reserves. Observe and discuss the various plants and wildlife they encounter, fostering an appreciation for the diversity of species and their roles in the ecosystem. As they explore, they can learn about how these natural resources contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

Living in the Canadian Rockies offers us the opportunities to experience the abundance of plants and wildlife that thrive in this natural wonder. Within an hour, we can fully immerse ourselves in the rugged mountains, where we may encounter elk, bears, foxes, deer, moose, big-horn sheep, or even all of them!

However, we strive to prioritize sustainability by minimizing unnecessary driving, recognizing the environmental risks associated with gas-guzzling vehicles.

Another engaging outdoor activity that involves animals is visiting local wildlife conservation sites. Near Cochrane, there are several options, including the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary and Kicking Horse Ski Resort, Boo the Grizzly. While we have previously visited the Calgary Zoo, I personally have mixed feelings about it. Therefore, we prioritize participating in opportunities that allow us to observe animals in their natural settings, promoting a deeper appreciation for wildlife and their habitats.

Teaching Sustainability Through BeachCombing

Beachcombing, especially in coastal regions like Newfoundland, offers a unique opportunity to teach sustainability concepts while fostering a deep connection with the marine environment. The act of exploring shorelines, collecting treasures, and observing coastal ecosystems can impart valuable lessons about conservation, biodiversity, and the interconnectedness of all living things.

Growing up in Newfoundland, I spent countless hours on the rugged shores of Port au Choix, immersing myself in the world of oceans, rocks, and seagulls. The colossal rocks that lined the coast became my playground, as I leaped and jumped, pretending the ground was scorching hot lava. Along the way, I took pause to marvel at the bedrock pools that had accumulated an array of treasures over the years. These pools were teeming with snails, mussels, and a variety of small fish (whose proper names elude me), surrounded by vibrant green, slimy seaweed.

As I navigated the rocky terrain, I was captivated by the intricate beauty of these coastal ecosystems. The intertidal pools were a microcosm of life, showcasing the resilience and diversity of species that inhabit our rocky shores. The snails, mussels, and mysterious fish species taught me about the adaptability of marine life and the interconnectedness of these organisms within their habitat. The seaweed, with its vibrant hues, revealed the hidden wonders of marine plants and their vital role in coastal ecosystems.

These experiences nurtured my curiosity and instilled a deep appreciation for the fragile balance of coastal environments. I learned to tread lightly, recognizing that even the smallest actions could impact the delicate ecosystems that sustained such remarkable biodiversity. It was a valuable lesson in environmental responsibility and the need to preserve and protect our natural wonders.

Through beachcombing adventures, children can explore the shores, discover hidden treasures, and witness the wonders of marine life. Encourage them to observe the intertidal pools, identify different species, and engage in discussions about the importance of preserving these delicate ecosystems.

By sharing stories of your own experiences, like the hours spent playing and the admiration for the bedrock pools, you can ignite their imagination and curiosity. Spark conversations about the ecological significance of the organisms they encounter, emphasizing the need to protect these habitats and the diverse life they sustain.

Teaching Children Sustainability through Fossil Hunting Adventures

One of my cherished childhood (and adulthood) activities is hunting for fossils along the limestone bedrock beaches of Port au Choix, NL. This coastal region boasts a rich history, and its abundance of limestone bedrock provides an ideal setting for discovering fossils. As I hopped from rock to rock, an adventure in itself, I would pause to appreciate the pools forming on the bedrock surface and the fossils they cradled. These moments sparked my fascination and ultimately led me to work with Archaeologists from Memorial University, as well as work with museums during the summers.

Fossil hunting offers an exceptional opportunity to teach children about sustainability concepts while exploring the remnants of ancient life. Engaging children in these adventures nurtures their curiosity, connects them with the past, and instills a sense of wonder for the natural world. Teach children about the ethics of fossil collection, emphasizing that only loose or exposed fossils should be collected, leaving those embedded in the rocks undisturbed.

During fossil hunts, children become immersed in the thrill of discovery. They learn to observe and identify various fossils, such as shells, imprints, and plant remnants, embedded in the rocks. These encounters allow children to understand the concept of deep time, appreciating how the Earth has evolved and the interconnectedness of past and present ecosystems.

Fossil hunting also provides an opportunity to discuss the broader implications of climate change and environmental sustainability. By examining fossils, children can gain insights into Earth's historical climates, the impact of human activities on the planet, and the importance of protecting and preserving our natural resources.

Teaching Children Sustainability through Gardening

Gardening offers a hands-on learning experience that connects children with the natural world. From preparing the soil to planting seeds, nurturing the plants, and witnessing their growth, children become active participants in the entire life cycle of a plant. This direct engagement fosters a deeper understanding of the interdependence between plants, soil, water, and air, and highlights the need for balance and stewardship in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Gardening teaches children about the importance of growing and cultivating plants and flowers, and how they contribute to the environment by producing oxygen, filtering pollutants, and providing food and habitat for wildlife (save our bees!).

If you have a backyard or a patio space, you can set up a garden bed where your kiddo can grow their own fruits, vegetables, or flowers. Teach sustainability concepts and organic gardening practices through adding nutrient-rich compost and share with them the benefits of locally grown food (ie. seasonal food and transportation omission).

If you don't have the time, space, or a greenthumb, consider bringing your children to a garden centre or Cascade Gardens. They can still learn invaluable lessons and be part of the gardening exploration experience.

Composting & Vermicomposting: Understanding the Circle of Life

Composting and vermicomposting activities are wonderful ways to introduce children to the concept of sustainability by recycling organic waste and witnessing the circle of life in action. These activities teach them about the value of reducing waste, improving soil health, and the vital role decomposers play in our ecosystems.

Start by explaining to children how organic waste can be repurposed instead of ending up in landfills, where it contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Demonstrate the composting process by setting up a compost bin or pile in a designated area. Involve children in collecting and adding organic materials, turning the pile, and monitoring the temperature and moisture levels. Discuss the importance of balancing green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials for successful composting. Over time, children will witness the transformation of their kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient-dense compost, emphasizing the importance of waste reduction and resource conservation.

Utilize worms to break down organic matter. Worms are decomposers and turn food scraps into nutrient-rich vermicompost, also known as worm castings. Set up a worm bin or vermicomposting system, explaining to children the ideal conditions worms need to thrive. They can actively participate in feeding the worms with kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and shredded paper.

By incorporating composting and vermicomposting activities into daily life, children develop a sense of environmental responsibility, learn the importance of resource conservation, and gain practical skills that can be applied in their everyday lives.

Conservation is Fun!

Teaching children about sustainability has to be fun and engaging for everyone involved. Plan outdoor exploration activities that teach sustainability and incorporate silly songs and games that teach sustainable behaviours and practices. By incorporating movement, fun, and sound, children can be more participatory and have a memorable learning experience.

For example, if you get them to help you with spring cleanup around your neighbourhood, they can sort the litter into categories and create a visual display to show the amount of waste that is produced. That helps them to focus and be cognizant of the task whether it's sorting by colours or similarities. Add in a silly song about trash picking and you're golden!

Water Conservation

Water is a precious resource that sustains life and plays a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity. Teaching children about water conservation not only helps them understand the value of this vital resource but also instills a sense of responsibility towards protecting and preserving our ecosystems.

By engaging kids in outdoor activities and observations that highlight the significance of water conservation, we can inspire them to become stewards of our planet's water sources.

Observation Game: Birdwatching and Water Sources

Another way to teach kids about water conservation and its importance for biodiversity is through birdwatching. Birds are highly dependent on water sources, making them excellent indicators of the health and availability of water in an ecosystem. Here's how you can incorporate this observation into a learning experience:

  1. Choose a local park, nature reserve, or backyard where children can observe a variety of bird species.
  2. Bring along binoculars and bird identification guides, or use a birdwatching app, to help children identify the birds they encounter.
  3. Pay attention to the behavior of the birds. Look for signs that indicate their reliance on water, such as drinking from ponds, splashing in puddles, or bathing in streams.
  4. Engage children in discussions about how water availability affects the birds' habitat and food sources. Help them understand that birds rely on clean and accessible water for drinking, bathing, and finding food, such as insects and fish.
  5. Emphasize the importance of conserving water sources to ensure the survival and well-being of bird species and other wildlife.

By connecting water conservation with birdwatching, children gain a tangible understanding of how water availability impacts biodiversity. They develop empathy for the needs of these creatures and recognize the crucial role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Engage in their Senses

Young children learn through their senses, so use outdoor exploration to engage their senses and help them learn about sustainability. For example, you could take them on a Nature walk and identify different trees, plants, and animals. While remaining respectful to the environment, encourage them to touch, smell, and listen to their surroundings. This will help them develop an understanding for the biodiversity of our local ecosystems.

By engaging their senses, children can learn about sustainability in a fun and interactive way. These outdoor exploration activities can help them develop a love and appreciation for Nature and learn how to make a positive impact on the environment.

Smell Activity

Children can learn about the importance of reducing waste and practicing sustainability by making their own outdoor herb garden. They can plant herbs like lavender, mint, or rosemary and explore their fragrances. They can also learn about how growing herbs at home can reduce the amount of packaging waste from store-bought herbs.

I love to put mint near Sylas's nose! The way his head comes forward to use his sniffer is so adorable, and the corresponding tickles gets the cutest giggles out of him.

Taste Activity

Children can learn about the importance of eating locally and reducing food waste by visiting a local farm. They can taste fresh fruits and vegetables and learn about how they are grown and harvested. They can also learn about composting food scraps and how it can be used to grow more food.

Sight Activity

Children can learn about the importance of reducing water waste by creating a rain barrel. They can decorate the rain barrel and learn about how it collects rainwater that can be used to water plants instead of using tap water.

Touch Activity

Children can learn about the importance of reusing and recycling by creating a sensory garden. They can touch and feel different textures of plants and learn about how to grow and care for them. They can also reuse materials like old pots and planters for their garden.

Sound Activity

Children can learn about the importance of reducing energy consumption by going on a nature hike and listening for the sounds of wildlife. They can learn about how wildlife depends on natural resources for survival and how humans can impact their habitats. This activity teaches children about the important role that birds play in the environment, including pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control. Children can learn about the different types of birds in their area, their behaviours, and their habitat requirements.

Teach Children to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Teach your children the three R's: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Explain to them how they can reduce waste by using reusable containers, how they can reuse items instead of throwing them away, and how they can recycle materials like paper, plastic, and glass. Encourage them to practice these behaviours in their daily lives.

Here are some activities to help you teach children sustainability practices:

  • Using visual aids: Using pictures or drawings can help them understand the concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling. For example, show them a picture of a plastic bottle and explain that it can be recycled and turned into something new, like a new toy or a new shirt.
  • Indoor/Outdoor recycling station: Have your children sort different types of materials into the correct bins. Talk about how recycling helps reduce waste and conserve resources.
  • Trash clean-up: This activity teaches children about the importance of proper waste disposal, and how litter and pollution can negatively impact the environment. It also teaches them the importance of taking responsibility for their own actions and making a positive impact on their community. If your neighbourhood association or community has a clean-up day, consider volunteering with your children!
  • Reducing food waste: Children can learn about the importance of reducing food waste by making a smoothie from fruits and vegetables that are overripe or close to expiration. They can also use a reusable straw to reduce plastic waste.

Celebrate their Successes

When your children demonstrate sustainable behaviours, be sure to celebrate their successes. Praise them for their efforts and encourage them to continue to practice sustainable behaviours.


Begin teaching sustainability to your children by explaining what sustainability means and why it is important.

Engaging in outdoor exploration activities is an excellent way to teach children about sustainability.

Composting and vermicomposting activities.