Story Collected by Lucia Whalen    

The Medina children are not your average children. For the Medina children, summertime is marked by the emergence of peppermint, which means that it is time for tea ceremonies. The Medina family is comprised of Rosalio, a native of Nicaragua, Claudia, a native of Colombia, and their three children Maria Teresa (Teeny), Gabriel (Chippy), and live four doors down the street from my door, and initially connected with my family through cultural heritage shared by Claudia and my stepmother and a love of music shared by all. 

According to Claudia, 
They’ve had tea ceremonies since they were little, so they couldn’t wait for the peppermint. Yesterday, they figured out the peppermint had come back, and they all sat down with their tea cups and had a special tea ceremony with their fresh herb tea. How many little kids sit down and have tea ceremonies? They invite their friends over and that’s the big thing - they all sit around and talk.

For Claudia Medina, an educational consultant, university professor and full-time mother, there is no greater connection to sustainability than through her children. By engraining a love of nature, learning, and imagination as natural parts of her family’s lifestyle, her three children, ages 6, 8 and 12, have all been raised in a way that radiates a pre-industrialized-American sustainability – one where children play outdoors until the sun goes down and know that summertime means picking tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Most American homes are adult-centered, and children grow up envisioning independence as leaving home for good and entering the world of capital and consumerism. In an act of ultimate sustainability, the Medina household has been made to be kid-centered. The Medina’s property, which was historically the neighborhood farmhouse, has maintained its identity as the core of the block, and sticks out with a massive yard which functions as a garden, hub for celebration, and child sanctuary. According to Claudia, “The kids don’t want to leave the house, they just love being here. Making your kids just want to stay at home is really sustainable, instead of wanting to go to a movie or go out anywhere to spend money. Instead of going to Chuck E Cheese, I put a zip line in the backyard. They have so much more fun just being here, [where] food is good and all their friends want to come. “

According to Claudia, environmentally friendly practices are a natural habit in the kids’ lives, as exemplified in their methods of play. 

She explains,
I don’t have a built swing set, I have ropes hanging from trees, and so it’s within the natural environment. You don’t have to have machine built things for the kids to have fun. We have used all things that interact with the environment instead of destroying the environment - like the tree swing. Instead of buying a man made swing set, we got a 100 ft. rope and put it over our tree to use with a recycled tire.

This type of creativity puts her children in the mindset of wanting to create their own fun, instead of needing to buy it.

A giant inflatable water slide, which the Medina’s recently added to their backyard haven, would be seen as wasteful and unsustainable to the passive eye. However, the most recent addition reveals an intersection between sustainability and family values. 

She says,
The inflatable water slide is not the most environmentally friendly, but if you think about how much fun it will bring to the yard, and just the fact that they love it so much…it keeps them home and makes family important to them. Everything we do is so our kids can be happy. Because if they love being here, they’re always going to want to come back, and if they come back, then our grandchildren are going to be part of our life. It’s controlling in a way, because we’re guiding, but we’re not on top of them - they’re very independent and very creative. The more time you give them to play and be outside, the better. In our house, the rule is you’re not allowed to use electronics until it’s dark.

For the Medina’s, environmental sustainability naturally coincides with a love of family, learning, imagination. She explains, “The message since they were little has been, ‘What did you learn today? Did you make the day count? Did you do something for someone else?’ And so, they are taught to share, and they are taught to care for the environment.”

By integrating nature into the everyday, the Medina children have developed a natural desire to live in an environmentally friendly way – one that they do not refer to as sustainable because of how natural it is to their lifestyle. So, how do we foster a culture around sustainability? In the case of the Medina’s, put children at the center.