Child’s Play: How to teach kids about energy efficiency

Young child turns off lamp

Just like making the bed and brushing your teeth, using energy efficiently is an essential life skill that can be taught from an early age. 

Whether you’re looking to save money on your power bill or simply seeking to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s important to teach your kids about energy-saving behaviours.

Kids love learning new things – so here are a few fun ways to teach them about energy consumption and where energy comes from. 

Let them know where energy comes from 

When kids understand why saving energy is important, it will be easier for them to take action.

A good place to start is by talking about how our bodies need food and sleep to get the energy we need throughout the day. Then, you can introduce all of the things we use at home – lights, televisions, computers, ovens, hot water – and how they also require power. 

Explain that in order for electricity to power our homes, we need to pay for it – and that if we don’t use it properly, it can waste money.  The more energy efficient we are, the more money we can save off our power bill. (Even Bluey’s household has to conserve energy!)

Once they’ve got that concept down, you can introduce the idea of renewable energy. Under the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan, it’s expected that 80 per cent of Queensland’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2035 – and as our energy mix changes, and we move towards a renewable future, it’ll be crucial for the little leaders of tomorrow to understand the importance of this evolution. 

You can start to explain renewable energy by teaching kids about sustainability. Don’t jump straight into concepts like solar panels, wind turbines and pumped hydro energy storage. Instead, start in the garden. Explain that plants produce fruit with seeds, and that these seeds can be replanted to grow more fruit and continue the cycle. 

That’s sustainability in a nutshell (or, in this case, in an apple seed) – the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time. 

Once kids understand the concept of sustainability, they can begin to grasp the difference between renewable resources that can be infinitely replenished, such as solar, wind and pumped hydro, and non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, that will eventually be depleted. 

Then you can start to get into specifics. If you have solar panels on your roof, for instance, you can explain to your kids that these panels turn the sun’s rays into electricity, which can be used to charge their devices. To really bring this home, you could make a solar oven with them, capturing the heat from the sun with just a pizza box, plastic wrap and aluminum foil and using it to heat up leftover food. 

child playing with windmill in field

Similarly, you could make a pinwheel out of paper to introduce wind energy to kids, or make a water wheel out of popsicle sticks to introduce hydropower, by showing them how the water and the wind make the wheels turn.

After all, it’s the kids of today that will grow into the energy jobs of tomorrow – so it’s never too early to start learning where that energy comes from. 

Make it a game 

Energy is consumed all over the house – so why not turn finding it into a game? Have the kids make a list of as many places that they might use (and waste) energy around the house that they can think of. 

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Lights – leaving them on for too long.
  • Fridge – opening the fridge door for too long.
  • Bathroom – leaving the tap on while brushing your teeth.
  • Phones and iPads – leaving them plugged in even when they are fully charged.

A chalkboard in the kitchen or playroom is the perfect place to create a list or point system to check off at the end of each day. You could even allocate a specific task for each member of the family, and set weekly or monthly rewards (with prizes!) for the person who checks off the most items.

The idea here is to train kids to see ways in which they can reduce the amount of energy they use. If you can turn it into a game with positive reinforcement (and rewards!), saving energy will become second nature to them in no time.

The Curtain Race

Before switching on the air-con in summer or the heater in winter, tell your kids to race around and shut as many curtains, windows and doors as they can. Whoever gets the most done, wins!

Introduce “The Phantom”

A fun way to talk about saving energy is by introducing kids to the concept of “Phantom power” or “vampire power”. This term refers to the energy that is wasted in your home when devices are plugged in, but no one is actually using them.

These “vampires” are in your home feeding on electricity from items that you aren’t using. The biggest drainers are televisions, which can suck a month’s worth of electricity from your home each year. 

The best way to put a stake in them? Simply unplug all appliances and devices from the wall as soon as you are finished using them. 

Shower with a song

Wasting water wastes energy, so getting your kids to take shorter showers can go a long way towards being more energy efficient. What better way to limit the length of shower time than by playing their favourite song? 

Timing your shower to a song under four minutes long is a great way to help kids (and adults) get into the habit of taking shorter showers. Just make sure they are still washing themselves properly within that time! 

Some four-minute shower song suggestions for kids are:

  • ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake 
  • ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams
  • ‘This Is Me’ by Keala Settle 
  • ‘Blank Space’ by Taylor Swift
  • ‘Let It Go’ by Demi Lovato 

Experiment in the kitchen

Another way to encourage kids to think about how we use energy is by getting creative in the kitchen. Big kitchen appliances generally use more power than smaller ones, so you can save power by coming up with meals that use the microwave instead of the oven, and the toaster instead of the grill. 

When you do use the oven, think of ways to maximise its use by baking desserts with the kids or making breakfast and lunchbox snacks at the same time. 

When cooking on the stovetop, using a burner that is too big can waste a lot of energy, so have the kids match the right burner to the right size pan. You can also chop vegetables together (carefully) into smaller pieces which will mean shorter cooking times.

Oh, and keep that fridge door closed!

Dishwasher Tetris

After dinner, the kids can help load the dishwasher – Tetris style! Have them take a look at the dishes and figure out their best strategy to fill it up while making sure everything still gets cleaned. While there’s no set rule as to how to stack dirty dishes, there are some key places to put things that will optimise the space. Challenge the kids to beat their fastest time!

Have an Earth Evening

Just like Earth Hour, challenge your whole family to have one night a week or a month where everyone goes lights and electricity-free. Ditch the screens for board games, read books by candlelight or sit outside and tell stories. This quality time when you deliberately unplug together can have a positive impact on your family’s mental health, your precious memories – and your energy bill.

Go on an adventure

The great outdoors can do wonders for your kid’s education. Take them on a trip to your local reservoir so they can see first hand where water is supplied.  Go on a nature walk, or better yet – have a bike adventure! It’s all about teaching your kids that there are other ways to travel that are far more energy efficient than a car.

And if you’re simply looking for more ways to have the kids disengage from television and video games and connect with the outside world, camping is always a great idea.

Remember, good habits don’t happen overnight, so try not to nag them and just have fun with it. Hopefully, with a little encouragement, your kids can start to be a bit more mindful of their impact on the household – and the planet.

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