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Family-friendly ways to save water

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By Rachel Bertsche
From Green Goes Simple

Water conservation is one of the most important elements of an eco-friendly home -- yet it's among the hardest to impress upon your kids.

"It's a really abstract thing," says Christine Escobar, founder of Green Parent Chicago and environmental blogger for The Huffington Post. "When you flush the toilet and that water is just gone, children don't really think about or understand how it is connected to the water near your city or state."

Still, the better your little ones grasp the value of water -- and why saving it is so important -- the more conscientious they'll be about not wasting it. Try these tips to help your kids understand the need to conserve water.

First, explain what happens to H2O when you flush the toilet or run the faucet. "Understanding that water needs to be cleaned and then goes into local lakes or rivers helps kids grasp why we want to conserve water in the first place," explains Escobar. If you're not quite sure of the wastewater process, books like One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss, and Jen Green's Why Should I Save Water? can do the teaching for you.

To drive the point home, Escobar says the best thing you can do is reacquaint your kids with the great outdoors through local nature centers. "When they really see the wildlife that's in the lakes or ponds or rivers and get a chance to interact with the animals, then they'll understand that, wow, this is their home and they need to keep it safe," she says. "Children are naturally very compassionate, so it's about creating that relationship" between them and how they affect the planet.

Once your kids understand the urgency of saving this most precious resource, the next step is to show them just how much water they could waste in a given day. "Illustrate how much you use by leaving the tap on for two minutes and collecting it in a bucket while they brush their teeth," says Escobar. Presenting kids with the actual amount of wasted water will help them understand that their actions really make a difference.

Now that you've alerted your kids to the problem, help them find a solution. Escobar uses reminder stickers with her own children, which she says have worked wonders. "They're little friendly reminders not to leave the tap on when you're brushing your teeth and to turn it off while you're doing the dishes," she says. "We put them on the walls above the sinks. You can even have the kids decorate their own with little fish. It's incredibly helpful."

During the warm-weather months, leaving a small bucket in the corner of the shower is a helpful reminder for kids to collect water that would otherwise go down the drain. "Using what's collected to water the garden is a great conservation method, and seeing the bucket in the shower is a great visual cue for kids."

Another option? Start a family challenge! Show your children the water bill and propose a family initiative to reduce that bill for the next month. "Offer a family incentive if you meet your goal," suggests Escobar. When your bill comes back lower than last month, everybody wins!

Rachel Bertsche is a Web producer, blogger and journalist who lives in Chicago. She's written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Outside and Fitness. Her first book, MWF Seeking BFF, will be out next year. 

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