How to Teach Kids about Sustainability and Becoming a Global Citizen

This post about how to teach kids about sustainability and becoming a global citizen has been sponsored by Mattel.  All opinions expressed here are my own. Learn more about Thomas & Friends™ and the  United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the links below.


I grew up in a relatively small suburb in Connecticut where I knew most of my neighbors. The same kids were in all of  my classes for about 12 years.  I traveled as far as two states away to visit family.  The most international food I ate was probably pizza.  And we certainly didn’t recycle anything at all.  It was probably a normal life for many small town American kids.

I was very happy as a kid, but I was also very unaware of the rest of the world.  With a new initiative between Thomas & Friends™ and the United Nations, your kids can grow up with a much broader world view than I did!

How to Teach Kids about Sustainability and Becoming a Global Citizen

Our Interconnected Planet

The world has changed a lot in the last 40 years. Our environment is suffering and our lives are more intimately connected to places on the other side of the globe.  As parents, we need to broaden our focus when it comes to teaching life lessons to our children.

Want to teach kids about sustainability and the world around them? You can start when they are toddlers! Encouraging them to become global citizens of our vast planet will help them grow into thoughtful and caring adults.  However, while these are fabulous goals, how do we teach them these important lessons?

What is a Global Citizen?

So, what exactly is a global citizen?  We can’t teach this concept to our kids without understanding the idea ourselves, right?  Global citizenship is the idea that all people have certain responsibilities that come with being a member of the entire world.  This whole-world philosophy encourages kids to have a broad sense of self, rather than identifying as ONLY a citizen of a particular city, state, or country.

So, yes, your child should be proud of their school and of their state.  However, they should also be proud of their German heritage and their membership in the human race as whole.

Thomas & Friends™ sustainable cities and communities initiative

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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

There is a new initiative between Thomas & Friends™ and the United Nations that will help you teach kids about sustainability and becoming a global citizen.  The UN has created a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  to tackle challenges surrounding health, education, environment, poverty and more.

As part of this project,  the team behind Thomas & Friends developed resources to help parents talk to their preschoolers about specific SDGs and how to embrace the world as one community.  With this goal in mind, their hope is that more and more of these small children will grow up to be global citizens in our ever connected world.  These are some really big concepts for some really small kids. But, they are important concepts to understand in today’s interconnected world.

globe in child's hands

Teaching Kids About Becoming a Global Citizen

Kids have a rather narrow view of life. Their bedroom and home, their school, a friends house… those are all places and concepts that kids can understand.  Your goal when teaching kids about global citizenship is to encourage them to look beyond their small sphere of existence. How do you convey global citizenship ideas in a way that children can understand? Try a few of these fun activities to teach them about far off places:

  • Invest in a globe and read books that showcase different areas of the world.
  • Try new ethnic foods and show them on a globe where those foods come from.
  • Listen to an assortment of music, from Zydeco to Spanish lullabies and find it’s country of origin on your globe.

While the world is a big place, by using books, food, and music, kids can get a better understanding of other cultures.

Thomas and Friends Sustainability

Learn Through Play with Thomas & Friends™

With the help of the UN and their Sustainable Development Goals, Thomas & Friends™ wants to help you teach kids about sustainability and becoming a global citizen.  Your preschoolers are not too young to understand how their actions affect our planet as a whole.

Thomas & Friends™ sustainable cities and communities initiative uses problem solving and creativity to help kids learn through play.  They will gain a greater understanding of families and communities.  In addition, they will learn geographical concepts and what their responsibilities should include in order to become a global citizen.

Playful Learning Concepts

  • Engineer some fun! You’ll need blocks, recycled materials like paper tube or cardboard, and toy trains or cars.
  • Make a bridge or a ramp with your child. Talk about how the bridge helps people move around the city by crossing a river or a street below. Using the toy trains, test your bridge or ramp.
  • Next try to build buildings and places for people to work and live. How tall can you make a tower? Make sure it doesn’t fall! Explain it has to be safe for the people who will live there.
  • For younger children, help them with the bridge construction or start by building a tower.
  • For older children, make a simple map of a city or town on a large piece of poster paper.
  • Add cardboard buildings in locations on the map. Make sure your child adds green spaces.

For short videos and additional information, visit:

Share your experiences using the hashtag: #AllAboardForGlobalGoals

kids recycling

How to Teach Kids about Sustainable Communities

Alongside teaching kids about the rest of the world, teach children about sustainability as well. Because the air and water we pollute travels far and wide!  Basic concepts of reusing things, reducing trash, recycling, and an appreciation of nature come fairly easily to children.  Take them to the park so they gain an appreciation of green spaces and nature.

Teach kids about sustainability by taking them outside and letting them help you plant a garden.  Then, talk about those far off places where our food often comes from.  And the resources it takes to get that food to their plate. When you talk about turning off the water when they brush their teeth, remind them where the water comes from and what a precious resource it is.  And how many people don’t have enough of it.

Talk to your child about concepts surrounding sustainable communities.  Maybe their school has a ‘No Idling’ sign in the carpool lane.  Or a city wide recycling center that you can visit.  Talk about public transportation options and local farmers markets.   Find a few sustainable family activities that you can take part in together.

Further Reading For parents

For more information about Thomas & Friends and their partnership with the United Nations, check out There is some great information there on the importance of sustainable communities and becoming a global citizen.   Rapid urbanization on our planet is exerting immense pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health.  Becoming a global citizen is vital to the health and survival of our planet.

Become a concerned citizen. Take an active interest in the management of your city.  Teach kids about sustainability. And help raise the next generation of global citizens who understand the need for sustainable communities and a small global footprint.

What is YOUR favorite way to teach kids about sustainability and becoming a global citizen?

2 thoughts on “How to Teach Kids about Sustainability and Becoming a Global Citizen”

  1. As the world grapples with the effects of climate change, it’s more important than ever to teach young children about the environment and how they can make a positive impact.

    This is a very well written article, with some really great tips! 👏


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