Creative, Cool Ways to Make Earth Day Relevant to Kids

So the world's biggest enviro awareness action isn't high on your kids' priority list? These ideas will surely spark their interest.

(Photo: KlausVedfelt/Getty Images)

Apr 21, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Linda Sharps is a regular contributor to TakePart. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her family, where she works as a freelance writer while wrangling two rambunctious boys and ignoring the laundry.

Earth Day's coming up! Yes, indeed, Earth Day, the day we, um, celebrate the earth. It happens every April. And…it's a special day. For the earth. Hey, it rhymes with birthday.

OK, to be honest, I didn't used to know much about Earth Day, aside from the fact that it has to do with the environment. Now that I've done some reading on the subject, I understand more about its origins and Earth Day founder Sen. Gaylord Nelson's amazing inspiration for the event:

Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.

Each year, people honor Earth Day in a variety of ways: by enjoying nature, getting involved in special environmental events, raising awareness about environmental issues, or participating in earth-friendly activities. As for me, this year I wanted to come up with some ideas for teaching my kids about Earth Day without (1) boring them to tears, or (2) requiring me to do any complicated craft projects involving glitter.

(Isn't glitter bad for the environment? If it isn't, it should be. I'm with that comedian who said glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.)

I went looking around for family-friendly Earth Day–activity inspiration; here are the most appealing ideas I came across:

• Spend Earth Day at your local zoo, botanical garden, or aquarium. I love this suggestion because it's such a great way to talk about conservation in a kid-friendly atmosphere. Some of our favorite local places to visit include a raptor center, an arboretum and botanical garden with more than seven miles of hiking and nature trails, and even an indoor "zoo" with rescued exotic animals—all easy and fun options for Earth Day.

• Watch a movie about the environment. Movies and documentaries such as Planet Earth, Disney's Earth (released on Earth Day 2009), Oceans, Free Willy, and Over the Hedge are all good options for my household.

• Clean up litter in your community. Considering how challenging it is to get my kids to pick up their bedrooms, I'm sure this one would involve quite a bit more complaining than sitting down to a movie—but I like the idea of a hands-on lesson in how much time it takes just to clean up, say, one area of a park.

• Plant a tree. We lost a beautiful old cherry tree in an ice storm this winter. Now seems like a good time to plant something new.

• Make a nature journal. I did this with my oldest son a few years ago, and he really enjoyed it. This Earth Day would be a great time to give both my sons journals and help them get in the habit of recording things from our outings—especially now that the weather's getting nicer and we're hiking and exploring more often.

• Talk about reducing our carbon footprint via the finger-reminder method. This is a pretty clever idea from a blogger: Use each finger on a hand to help you decide whether or not something is earth-friendly. Examples: Thumb up = Is this made somewhere I can walk to? Or would I have to take a boat or plane to see it made? Pointer finger = Will I be sad later for buying it? Middle finger = Was someone in the world hurt to make this? And so on.

• Make Earth Day crayons. I am so not a crafty person, but I love this suggestion for using up old and broken crayons to make pretty, new (usable!) earth crayons.

More important than the how of honoring Earth Day this year is the why: I want my kids to grow up with a deeper understanding of environmental issues than I did. So that's my job this Earth Day (and every day, really)—to help them know that they are the future, and they can help shape that future by the actions they take now.

How are you celebrating Earth Day in your household this year? Do you have any tips for making the day meaningful for children?