10 fun ways to teach your kids to be energy efficient

Making energy efficiency a family affair isn’t just good for your budget, it’s good for your kids’ futures, too. Find out why – and how to make it work.

Think undertaking some eco-friendly home improvements is the only way to make your house more energy efficient? Not true. Small changes to household habits have a big impact, too, so if you’re keen to encourage your kids to do things that’ll help keep a lid on your power bill, you’re not alone.

In fact, more than three-quarters of parents surveyed for Origin Energy’s Good Energy Report III say they’re already teaching their kids energy-saving behaviours.

It’s a smart move according to a 2018 study, which found that when kids get to grips with energy-saving strategies, it sets them up to manage their energy consumption later in life.

“And the younger you start, the better,” says the study’s lead author, Ikerne Aguirre-Bielschowsky from the University of Melbourne. “Primary school age, before kids hit their teenage years, is ideal.”

Role modelling energy efficient behaviours helps inspire children.

Ikerne’s other tips?

“As well as being consistent and role modelling the behaviours you’re trying to instil, making sure children understand how actions reduce energy use is important for encouraging participation – particularly for less-obvious actions.

“Kids understand how pulling out a plug helps, but things like closing curtains or having shorter showers are a little more abstract unless it’s explained to them.”

Explaining your motivation, whether it’s to save money or reduce your carbon footprint, matters too.

“If children understand why they’re doing it, they’ll find it easier to apply the concept to future behaviours,” says Ikerne.

The study also found that the worst thing you can do to encourage your kids to save energy is to nag them. One of the best things you can do is to try having some fun with it. These sustainability activities for kids will help.

1. Stage a pop quiz

Once you’ve explained how certain behaviours affect energy usage and why you’re trying to use less of it, hold a quiz – complete with prizes – to test and reinforce your kids’ knowledge.

2. Play ‘I spy the energy waster’

When you’re confident your kids understand how your home uses energy and what you can do as a family to be more efficient (hello that pop quiz!), play a game of ‘I spy’ where you all take turns identifying things you could improve on.

3. Take song showers

Getting your kids to limit their showers to the length of a favourite song or two is a fun, effective way to save on water-heating costs.

Asking them to pick one or two songs, so showers are no more than four minutes long, will contribute to keeping your water heating costs under control.

4. Hand out some tissue paper

And ask your kids to use it to identify draughts under doors, around window frames, near fireplaces and over floorboards.

If the tissue moves when they hold it close, they’ve found a draught where cold and hot air can enter during winter and summer.

Reward your kids – and block those drafts.

5. Try ‘swap this for that’

Write down a list of energy-heavy appliances on one set of cards and on another set, write a smart swap for each. Hold up an energy-heavy appliance and ask your kids to choose the card they’d swap it with.

For example, they could choose ‘washing line’ to swap with ‘clothes drier’ or ‘ceiling fan’ to swap with ‘air conditioner’.

6. Cook an energy-free meal

Holding off on using appliances like your oven as well as things like blenders, mixers and microwaves is an easy way to save energy a couple of times a week and will encourage your kids to appreciate all the ways kitchens use energy.

Engage them even more by letting your kids choose the meals.

Swap screen time for board games

7. Turn going screen-free into a competition

Getting kids to ditch screens in favour of board games, reading and playing outdoors might seem difficult – unless it’s a task they can win!

Award points for every 30 or 60 minutes they spend doing something that requires zero household energy, tally it up and see who wins.

8. Run a close-the-curtains race

Forty percent of your home’s heating energy can be lost via the windows during winter. Up to 87 percent of its heat is gained that way during summer.

So when you’ve got the heating or the air-conditioning on, ask your kids to race around and shut some curtains. The one who gets the most done, wins!

9. Brainstorm keep-warm and stay-cool strategies

Even when turning on the heating or air-conditioning is essential, doing what you can to ease the load will save energy.

Ask your kids to come up with a plan, whether it’s rugging up in an extra jumper, shutting doors to keep the heat in or using fans to stay cool.

10. Choose a number monitor

Some key numbers affect how energy efficient your house is – like having your fridge set at four or five degrees Celsius and your freezer between minus 15 and 18 degrees, which you can measure using a fridge thermometer.

Likewise, it’s best to have your thermostat set no lower than 26 degrees in summer and no higher than 20 degrees in winter – every degree higher can add 10 percent to your heating bill.

Assign your kids the job of keeping those numbers in check. Research shows it’s that kind of responsibility that helps them engage with the energy-efficiency mission.

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