Family “Earth Day” Activities
This April 22nd, people from all around the world will choose to come together to celebrate and participate in Earth Day activities.
From communities, schools, and households to organized events, they will find either new and innovative, or even tried-and-true classic ways to give back to Mother Nature on behalf of mankind. Chances are, on your way to work or walking in the park, you have unknowingly passed right by some of these achievements right in your own neighborhood.
That’s because whether it’s picking up trash or planting trees, these events impact our everyday lives on a large scale. For those unfamiliar with Earth Day, you may be surprised to learn that it’s about so much more than just planting a few trees for future generations. For one day every spring the whole planet comes together to raise awareness for our environment and collectively give back in a multitude of different ways.
From individual family projects to community events, these efforts help sustain our ecosystems as well as educate future generations on the importance of being a good steward to the planet. While most schools have fun and creative activities for the children, such as germinating seedlings or planting saplings in a park, that doesn’t mean that your homeschooled child or your preschooler needs to be left out.
With the help of a few great ideas inherited from those that are old hats with a green thumb, you can start your little one off with a deep respect and appreciation for Mother Nature. Here are some tips on getting the most out of this year’s Earth Day with your toddler:
Fix Up an Eyesore
Every yard, street, or community has one: a neglected patch of potential just waiting for some TLC and a creative touch. Find a spot either around your house or within your local area that could use some sprucing up and show your toddler that you can not only have some fun playing in the dirt, (like kids already know!), but you can also give back at the same time.
Some of these projects can be as simple as planting some pretty flowers to add a splash of color to an otherwise boring scenery, all the way to trimming bushes back or planting some new trees in a spot that it’s acceptable to do so.
Many stores and greenhouses offer deals for Earth Day, so if you do a little shopping around you may just score some great bargains on plants and flowers. The beauty of this is not only that it makes things a little cheerier around your house or town, but it also teaches your child to use their creativity to see the potential in otherwise boring and neglected spaces.
Hunt Down Litter
As adults, the idea of picking up random garbage may not be all that appealing. But in my experience, I find myself telling my boys to leave stuff alone that they see on the ground more often than not. Earth day is a wonderful opportunity to not only allow them to do what they do best, pick stuff up, but teach them about the benefits of not littering. So much of what we as humans either intentionally or unintentionally toss on the ground has a huge, lasting, and negative impact on our environment.
More than just visually unappealing, this trash ruins watersheds harming the flora and fauna that call these waters home, pollutes the soil preventing beneficial plants from growing, and can even make its way into our food by leaching harmful toxins into the ground. Your child will learn to recognize this impact as they work to not only beautify whatever piece of land you choose, they will also get to appreciate spaces that are free from litter and trash.
As a word of caution, always closely supervise you child as they collect trash. Proper equipment should be used, such as thick gloves, eye protection, and foot protection to keep them safe from unnoticed glass, sharp metals, or harmful materials.
As important as it is to clean up all public spaces, if there is a risk of drug use or other illegal materials, its best to stick to areas that are a little more secure, for the safety of you and your child. There is no shortage of safe, public areas that could use some cleaning up as well.
Go for a Nature Walk
This is one of my favorite activities, and as far as creativity or depth, the sky’s the limit! For a more frugal approach, stop by your local library and pick up some books on your local plant life and wild life, such as birds and insects, (as a bonus, this supports your public library, and we need to do more of this as well!). You can always pick up some books from the bookstore as well if you feel like making notes in the margins or you think this is an activity that you may enjoy on a frequent basis.
Or, if you’re really in a jam, simply print off some helpful guides from the internet that focus on your local environment. Then, whether you go to the park, your backyard, a local hiking trail, or any other public area, you can take your child on a nature walk and point out the various plants and wild life you come across.
It’s helpful to let your child take the drivers seat on this one. Let them decide what looks interesting to them, and then use the books to help explain that plant or animal’s role in the ecosystem. Many plants have useful benefits to the animals and insects that call the forest home, and helping your toddler to see the intricate balance that exists in nature will help them develop a new, deep appreciation for our wild spaces.
Start a Compost Pit
It’s a poorly kept secret that our nations landfills are bursting at the seams. There are only a couple options for dealing with this problem; claim additional wild land and turn it into even more landfills, or teach people the value of not only recycling, but finding other beneficial ways to deal with their trash.
Home compost piles are the gift that continues to give. Not only do you have a safe and efficient way of dealing with your biodegradable refuse, once it has composted, you have an excellent source of nutritious planting soil for your flower beds and garden. You can make them as large and elaborate as you want, but ours is always just some chicken wire stretched in a circle about 10 feet in diameter and held up with metal picket posts. You’ll want to select an area that is out of the way, as it will likely attract some bugs and maybe a few animals looking for an easy snack.
Once your compost pile enclosure is complete, the process is fairly simple. Just use this space for disposing of organic material such as eggs shells, fruit cores, vegetable waste, grass clippings, pruning clippings, even tea bags and cardboard egg cartons. This organic material will break down into a great additive for planting that’s high in nitrogen and other helpful nutrients.
Turn out the Lights
Electricity exists outside of most children’s periphery. They hit a switch and there’s lights, fans, televisions, and whatever else is needed. While we parent’s certainly notice the monthly bills we get in the mail, it goes further than that. Our collective dependence on electricity put a strain on the planet.
From clearing vast expanses of land in order to build electrical substations, to the damming of natural waterways that affect entire aquatic ecosystems, electricity comes with a hefty price on Mother Nature. Earth Day is a great time to turn off the lights (and other electronics) and give our power grid a rest. Instead, use this opportunity to teach the value of modern conveniences and discuss alternatives to our ever-increasing dependency on electricity.
You can teach your child about solar power, wind power, or simply enjoy the sounds of your community for the day. Luckily, Earth Day is in the spring time, so you should at least enjoy some nice weather for the day!
Plant a Garden
During World War II, the country was obviously a very different place. With almost every citizen doing some part to contribute to the colossal war effort, whether they wanted to or not, a myriad of new ideas came about. One of these ideas was the “victory garden”. These small, household gardens not only encouraged people to provide for themselves (thus freeing up supplies for the men and women overseas fighting the war), they also allowed families to maintain a healthy lifestyle amidst a period of “doing without”.
Now days, you don’t see many gardens outside of people’s houses. They take time, and work. Sometimes the stuff dies, or gets eaten by animals; all manner of discouraging things. Still, a small garden filled with your family’s favorite veggies is a great way not only control the quality of some of your food, but can get kids enthused about eating healthy and growing plants at the same time. Talk with your local greenhouse about which vegetables are easy to grow in your area and dig in!
Feed the Birds
Maybe you’re short on time, or maybe your family really loves birds; no matter the reason, a great way to not only feed the local bird population, but also teach your child about re-purposing nature, you can make a simple pine cone bird feeder. All you need is a large pinecone, (or several if you’d like), some peanut butter, some bird seed, and some string. Just cover the pine cone in the peanut butter, roll in the bid seed to get it to stick to the peanut butter, and hang around your yard from a string. As an added bonus activity, learn what types of birds are visiting your feeder with your child!
See What’s Roaming Around
Still got those wildlife books? Well flip to the animal pages and head for the local stream. Water is essential for all organisms roaming the earth. No matter how nocturnal or reclusive the critter, sooner or later it’s going to get thirsty.
A lot of times, when you find a source of water, such as a creek or stream, you’re sure to find the presence of animal activity. By studying the different types of tracks around these water sources you can teach your child about each animal. It doesn’t have to be super in-depth, and using pictures of the animals can certainly help some of the younger children grasp things such as size and color.
Afterwards, your child will better understand that he or she shares a space with a bounty of creatures, big and small, and how each has a role to play in the drama of the natural ecosystem.
Plant a Tree
This time-honored classic earth day activity has withstood the test of time for good reason, it’s important and easy. Trees do more than just absorb harmful gasses like carbon dioxide and then expel oxygen, although that plenty enough reason on its own! No, they also provide habitats for all sorts of birds, bugs, and mammals. As much as we love our Mother Nature, the need for wood products isn’t likely going anywhere in our lifetime, and so they also serve this purpose.
The good news is that despite vast swaths of forests being cut down for mankind’s increasing wood and paper product needs, replacing them is easier than many people would think. Kids love dirt, and they love to make holes in the dirt. Use this natural tendency to plant some saplings in the ground for the next generation.
It’s even better if you’re able to pick a spot in your backyard, that way as your child grows, he or she can look at their tree or trees with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Plan a Picnic
It may not sound very earth day-ish at first, but a fun picnic has a lot of potential for an activity with your toddler. Find a quiet place in nature, or even a park, and enjoy an outdoor lunch and some games. These days not many children spend time just appreciating nature.
When they’re outside they are usually on playgrounds, or riding bikes, or some other activity. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things of course, but just enjoying nature on her own terms will give your child an appreciation for nature for natures sake. Let them take the time to hear the birds chirping, the insects calling out to one another, from croaking, whatever natural sights and sounds present themselves.
Go on a Scavenger Hunt
This is one of my favorite activities for Earth Day. Take your child to the park, or even your own backyard and give them a list of things to hunt for. Items you can use are flowers, pine cones, maple leaves (or any other tree leaf), sticks, rocks, whatever is age appropriate for them. If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can invite some friends to participate and make lists for each other so it’s a surprise for you as well.
Sort Recyclable Materials
Often times, children have a natural desire to be helpful. You can use that to the earth’s advantage by making recycling bins and showing your toddler how to sort them. Make bins for aluminum, glass, plastics, and papers and then help your child practice putting the waste item in the appropriate container.
What some people find to be a chore may actually be a form of entertainment for your toddler. If more Americans chose to recycle their waste we’d not only see a reduction in landfills, we’d help conserve the natural resources of the planet, this reducing the negative impact on huge populations of wild life and vast stretches of wild ecosystems.
Humans often love to boast about being at the top of the food chain. While that may depend on your present location and circumstances, it does invoke a sacred responsibility to also be earth’s greatest champions.
How far you take that responsibility is of course entirely up to you, but if everyone pitched in just a little, the impact would be profound for the planet. By teaching our children at an early age how much of an influence we can have on the environment, both good and bad, we are securing a better future not only for our children, but for all of the planet.