Earth day is here, my friends.
I often consider myself an urban hippie parent. My son is a lover of all things nature. This year, we’re starting a garden, and it has opened my eyes to how many free (and low cost) ways I can teach my son to take care of the earth. These include neighborhood scavenger hunts, upcycle gardening, recycle relay, and ideas inspired by my work as a teacher.
1Earth Day Scavenger Hunt
Living in a place that tends to get unexpectedly chilly can really harsh a toddler’s playground aspirations. Decked in our jean jackets and thrift store sneakers, we went to the nearest college campus for our earth day scavenger hunt. A college campus can be great because it’s less likely to have sharp objects laying in the grass and there are generous amounts of space to run around. You can write the names of items/plants you want to help your child find, or have photos for children who haven’t yet learned to spell.
Pro Tip: Scout the location before taking your precious little one on a scavenger hunt to avoid a surprise condom or sharp object.
When my son and I first moved into our new house, the prospect of a little vegetable garden was exciting. After a year, all we had was an unopened seed packet and one gardening glove. (Who knows where the other one went?) I’ve never had a green thumb, but tomato plants are some of the easiest things to grow. Bonzai Aphrodite gave me the idea. Get a small tomato sprout, a gallon water jug, scissors, a couple yards of twine, soil, and towels to clean up when you’re finished.
Gather two or three bottles and tear off the labels. Turn the bottle upside down and cut off the bottom, leaving it open to put dirt inside. Keep the scissors handy, because you’ll also need to cut four very small holes (one on each side) to hold the twine. The holes should be three or four inches away from the cut-off bottom so the twine can support your creation. Put your tomato seedlings inside the smaller opening and fill the rest with potting soil.
Now, just hang it outside with lots of sunlight, water, and love. Altogether, this little project will cost about $12.
Pro Tip: If you use some sort of filter rather than bottled water, consider asking your child’s school or childcare director for a few of their empty bottles.
Chores are basically never fun. Parenting means sometimes tricking your children into thinking monotonous tasks are really fun adventures. I came up with a recycle relay when I was cleaning the house. We threw a party with some of my son’s friends, and there was trash everywhere before the last few guests left. I was sitting on the couch with two other mothers looking at the colossal mess our boys had made. One mom asked if I wanted some help cleaning up. Before I could politely decline, the other mom said the kids should pick it up. We laughed, but then I realized that maybe they really should pick it up.
The mess was mostly paper from their craft project, empty juice boxes, and some water bottles. I’m a teacher, and I felt creative. I told the kids we were going to have a relay race, and the winner would get a prize. One mom held the paper bin, one held the plastic bin, and I held the compost bin for food. One by one they had to pick up a piece of trash and put it in the right bin. At the time, they were all toddlers, so it was mostly them bumping into each other and going out of turn — but it started the process of teaching conservation. To this day, my son likes to race me to put recycling in the proper bin.
Pro Tip: All the participants can win the prize via a mysteriously inexplicable tie.
4Earth Day Bingo
There are loads of bingo sheets on the internet. In my classroom, we reused poster board from my students’ science projects and drew a life-sized bingo board on the back. Each square had a picture of an item (old banana, plastic bag, paper, etc.). The students each had 5 little bean bags. When I said “reduce, reuse, or recycle,” they’d have to toss the bean bag onto a picture that could be reduced, reused, or recycled. For example, if I said recycle, a child could toss a beanbag onto a picture of a water bottle. As you could imagine, the game took up the entire class and there were certainly some stray beanbags now and then.
This game is best suited for children in elementary school. My toddler hasn’t quite managed to get the full concept, but he loves throwing the beanbags, and it is a good way start familiarizing him with the concept.
5Cereal Box Journal
If your family is anything like mine, you go through more boxes of cereal than you care to admit. Rather than throwing them away or recycling them, you can also create a little keepsake that will help your child remember the importance of Earth Day. Once you have saved three or four cereal boxes, you can make Earth Day journals. Cut out the front and back of the cereal boxes to make the sheets for a journal. Use a hole puncher to make holes, and once you have six or more “sheets,” use bread ties to bind them together. You and your children can draw Earth Day activities you’ve done, or ask them to write about why they want to protect the earth. It’s a simple, straightforward project that uses things you probably already have at home.
These five easy family-friendly Earth Day activities have been fun for me and my son. Games don’t have to be complicated or expensive for them to be fun and memorable. Remember that, on Earth Day, we celebrate the preservation of our natural resources. It’s good to start talking to children about our environment at a young age, and these ideas can be the beginning of a lifetime of earth appreciation.