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Conserving at home makes energy-conscious kids

What can parents do to make their children more energy conscious? "Become an energy-intentional family" is the answer Beth and Jim Galbreath give. The Galbreaths are leaders in alternative energy around Rockford, Ill., and their six-year-old daughter, Lee, and four-year-old son, Kurt, have joined the movement.

"In everything we do, every action we take, we try to consider the energy choices," Beth explains, "and we discuss these choices with our children. When the weather turns cold, we put on sweaters and socks instead of turning on the heat. We also go as a family to harvest wood, and the children help stack and load our fuel," she says.

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The Galbreaths also installed insulating drapes and put the children in charge of closing them at night.

Other families leave the decision to insulate or weatherstrip up to their pint-sized "draft detectors." To become a detector, a child needs to attach a strip of plastic wrap to a pencil. He should then move the pencil around each window and door frame, and look for signs of seeping air. If the plastic wrap gets "drafted" by an incoming breeze, it's time to weatherstrip.

Older children can improve the family's energy use by calculating the most efficient route for errands and the least energy-expensive method of cooking dinner. Sometimes working out the actual energy cost of "cruising" lessens a teen-ager's use of the car.

Energy consciousness can be a positive force in the family, the Galbreaths believe. "The energy issue often brings us together -- sometimes quite literally," Beth says. "We gather together under one blanket and watch the fire and walk together on errands so there will be enough people to carry our purchases."

Whatever conservation methods you favor, "let your children know about every energy decision you make," Beth counsels. She places the burden of conservation on adults, asking that parents "set a good example for your kids -- it's too much to ask them to set a good example for you."

The children need another kind of "good example," Beth feels. While most adults rely primarily on oil-generated energy, children will have to rely on alternative sources of energy, and they need to become acquainted with these sources now.

One simple experiment that even young children can do involves a pie plate painted black. Once the paint dries, put in a little water and measure the temperature either with a thermometer or, for non-readers, a finger. Then wrap the pie tin tightly in plastic wrap, taped down, and place the tin on a stack of insulating newspapers, directly in the sun.

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After an hour or so, unwrap the pie tin and measure the temperature of the water. Here is a warming example of solar power.

Some more projects and ideas for easing children into the alternative energy age can be found in these publications:

* "Award Winning Energy Education Activities for Elementary and High School Teachers," available free from the Department of Energy Technical Information Center, PO Box 62, Oak Ridge, Tenn. 37830

* "The Best Present of All," an amusing tale for young children of a king's search for the perfect energy source for future generations; free from the National Wildlife Federation, 1412 -- 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

* "Get Your Hands on Energy," a book of alternative energy activities, available for $4.50 from the New Western Energy Show, 226 Powerblock, Helena, Mont. 59601

* "Solar Concepts," a two-volume set designed for secondary and vocational students; $12 from the Maine Audubon Society, 118 Old Route 1, Falmouth, Maine 04105.


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