Earth Day is a day intended to inspire appreciation for and awareness of our earth’s environment. It is a great opportunity to teach our kids about the value of the earth and to instill respect for our natural world. It is important to make Earth Day meaningful and valuable to children. After all, the future of our earth is in their hands.
The first Earth Day took place thirty-five years ago and America’s concern for the global environment has steadily grown since then—especially in the face of increasing pollution and environmental threats. However, recent studies have shown that today’s children are spending less and less time outdoors, which means they have less time to experience and appreciate nature firsthand.
According to a study by Hofstra University, 71 percent of mothers across the country reported that they played outdoors more often than indoors when they were children, while only 26 percent said their own kids do so today. Instead, much recreational time is filled with video games, TV, and the Internet. It’s up to parents to reinforce the value of getting outside and enjoying the natural world around us.
Earth Day can be a fun day to educate children about respecting the earth and all of earth’s inhabitants, be they two-legged, four-legged, furry, slippery, or feathery. Extend this earth-friendly mindset beyond Earth Day, and make everyday Earth Day in your home. Earth Day can also serve as a catalyst to engage children in nature-oriented fun. Here are a few ideas:
- Virtually adopt an animal: Check with your local zoo or other nature-oriented organization, such as the Save the Manatee Club. Your child can look at pictures and read about his or her new “pet.”
- Take a nature walk: Bring an insect and plant manual and see how many plants, flowers, and bugs you can identify.
- Make nature creations: Collect a variety of outdoor items, such as leafs, sticks, flowers, and rocks, and create unique art projects.
- Try “earth painting:” Finger paint with mud on sidewalks or paper — a good outdoor activity!
- Create a trash collage: Use “trash” (paper scraps, labels, junk mail, and other clean items right out of your trash can) and glue to create a multimedia masterpiece.
- Make pinecone birdfeeders: Cover a large pinecone with peanut butter and birdseed, hang outside your window, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the bird visitors as they feast.
- Make cleaning up fun: Take your children to their favorite park, woods, or even for a stroll around your neighborhood. Pick up all the litter you can find and see who can collect the biggest bag. Also, take the time to explain the effects litter has on our environment.
In addition to teaching our children about caring for the earth and engaging them in hands-on activities, there are a number of measures parents can take to conserve energy and water and reduce pollution and waste:
- Turn off lights, TVs, and other electronic equipment when not in use.
- Recycle cardboard, paper, and plastics.
- Draw, paint, and write on recycled paper (and use recycled computer paper for your printer).
- Buy only paints, markers, and glues that are water based.
- Use fans instead of air conditioners.
- Bike, walk, or use public transportation when possible instead of driving.
- Try to buy organic foods free of pesticides and chemical additives.
- Start a compost pile for your food scraps and lawn clippings.
- Make a habit of picking up any litter you see.
- Avoid using aerosol sprays and Styrofoam.
- Reduce your overall use of plastic packaging.
- Use your own cloth bags for groceries.
There are many great Web sites that can provide you with more information about Earth Day, the environment, and fun nature activities. Here are a few:
- Recycle City is a high-quality Web site for kids, full of facts, games, and activities just for them.
- Earth’s Birthday Project has lots of great science facts and fun to engage school-age children and educate them about our earth.
- Children of the Earth United is a Web site just for kids, featuring ideas for earth-friendly family games and activities, such as making recycled paper, environmental facts, great books, and more.
- Kaboose Web site provides fun Earth Day and nature activities for the whole family. Plant a tree or garden: Vegetable gardens are especially fun for children, because you can eat the end product.
Pick up a book and read with your children (have an outdoor reading session if the weather allows). Here are some quality books about Earth Day:
- I Love Our Earth by Bill Martin Jr., Michael R. Sampson, and Dan Lipow (ages birth to preschool)
- It’s Earth Day! by Mercer Mayer (ages 4–8)
- Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler (ages 4–8)
- Clifford the Big Red Dog: Clifford’s Spring Clean-Up by Norman Bridwell (ages 4–8)
- Earth Day Crafts (Fun Holiday Crafts Kids Can Do!) by Carol Gnojewski (ages 9–12)
- You Are the Earth: Know the Planet So You Can Make It Better by David Suzuki, Kathy Vanderlinden, and Diane Swanson (ages 9–12)