Earth Day, April 22nd, is a great opportunity for families and communities to come together to participate in activities that promote environmental awareness and sustainability. As a parent, I believe that it is our responsibility to instill in our children a love and respect for our planet, and encourage children to make choices that benefit the environment and the world. The following are some engaging activities that you can do with your children to celebrate and commemorate Earth Day. All of these activities have been tested and approved by me and my own three-year old.
Plant a garden
One of the best ways to connect children with nature is to involve them in planting and gardening. Start by selecting a sunny spot in your backyard or on your patio or balcony, and then let your children choose the plants they want to grow. If you are new to gardening, I suggest growing herbs as they are easy to grow, are equally happy in a garden bed or a container on your windowsill, and they are rewarding—herbs can be harvested early and frequently and are an easy addition to your everyday cooking.
Gardening can be a great way to teach children about the importance of soil, water, and sun, and it’s the perfect primer into the life cycle of plants. Younger children can help by digging holes, planting seeds or starts, and watering the plants. Older children can take on more responsibility by researching plant care and maintenance.
My little one and I started the growing season by planting sage, basil, oregano, and mint (if you’re growing mint, make sure you give it a pot of its own, as it tends to take over quickly). She has loved helping with the watering and monitoring the plants’ progress, but nothing is as exciting to her as snipping a few sprigs of herbs to go in our teas and dinners.
Recycle and Upcycle
Recycling is a simple way to reduce waste and save resources. You can encourage your children to participate by showing them how to sort their waste into the different bins and explaining why it is important. Additionally, you can introduce them to upcycling, which is the process of turning waste materials into new and useful products. For example, we have repurposed plastic milk jugs by creating miniature greenhouses for our seed starts. Simply cut around the middle of the jug, fill the bottom half with dirt, plant, and use the top half as a lid to protect the baby plant and keep in moisture and heat.
Conduct a litter clean-up
Litter isn’t just ugly—it can also be harmful to wildlife and the environment. You can take your children on a litter clean-up of your local park or neighborhood. Provide them with gloves and bags and explain to them the importance of picking up litter and disposing of it properly. And this doesn’t have to be a one-day-only activity. My daughter and I like to make a game of picking up a few pieces of trash every time we hike along a creek near our house. This gives us the opportunity to talk regularly about the negative impacts of pollution and the actions we can take to prevent it.
Make bird feeders
Birds are an essential part of our ecosystems, and they can be a great source of entertainment to children. You can involve your children in making simple feeders using easy-to-find materials like pine cones, peanut butter, and birdseed. You can then hang the feeders in your backyard, or on your patio or balcony and observe the different species of birds that come to feed. As you craft your bird feeders, talk to your children about wildlife conservation and ways in which they can help to support their local ecosystem.
Go on a nature walk or hike
A nature walk or a hike can be a great way to explore the outdoors and connect with nature. Take your children on a hike at your local park or nature reserve and encourage them to observe and identify different plants, animals, and insects. You can also bring a field guide or use a mobile app to help identify different species. Don’t have a park with hiking trails nearby? Try walking through your neighborhood. You might be surprised by the diversity of plants and wildlife you find, even if you live in an urban area.
Create a nature mandala
A mandala is a geometric, often circular, configuration of shapes and symbols. The creation of a mandala is used in various spiritual practices, often to promote present-moment awareness or aid in meditation. If you
aren’t familiar with mandalas, look them up online and study a few images. You’ll notice that many ma
ndalas have repeating patterns and symmetry. Using these images as inspiration, head outside with your children and create a nature mandala. When I did this activity with my daughter, we first gathered our materials—leaves, flowers, pebbles, pine needles, and sticks. We chose mostly to use items that were already on the ground, though we did pick a few dandelion flowers. I drew some concentric circles in the dirt and we filled each section of the mandala with a different material. There are many ways you could make your mandalas more complex, but keeping it simple made it possible for my three-year-old to really participate in and take ownership of the activity.
As you work, remind your children that the art they are creating isn’t meant to be permanent. The creation of the mandala is about the process and the time spent together in nature. If you want, snap a picture so you can remember, then scatter the materials so that you can practice the principles of “leave no trace.”
Earth Day is a valuable opportunity for families to reflect on their impact on the environment and take small actions towards conservation and sustainability. Spending time out in nature and/or engaging in activities to support and protect it can foster in our children a greater sense of connection and appreciation for the environment. By encouraging the relationship between our children and nature, we can ensure that they grow up developing a deeper sense of stewardship and responsibility for our planet. So get outside and seize the moment! Happy Earth Day.