Blowing dandelion seeds, chasing fireflies, and watching caterpillars munch on milkweed – these were some of my children’s favorite outdoor activities. They also loved digging in the dirt and planting seeds that they hoped would grow into carrots or watermelons or string beans. Even when we didn’t have a yard for gardening, they would line up paper cups filled with dirt and marigold seeds on a windowsill and wait for them to bloom. There was just something about connecting with the earth that nurtured their souls.
Friday, April 22 marks the 52nd celebration of Earth Day in the United States and the 32nd celebration of this environmental holiday worldwide. Its primary purpose is to encourage awareness and activism about climate change and other issues that threaten the well-being of the earth. Sometimes called the largest secular holiday in the world, it’s a great opportunity for families to learn about ecosystems and the important role that humans play in caring for the earth so the earth can care for us.
This Friday, or any day, try out one or more of these Earth Day activities together:
Explore an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a group of living things and their environment. All the things within an ecosystem influence one another, which means that a problem with one element will eventually affect the rest of the system. Help your child see the connections among living things by looking out a window or taking a walk in a greenspace. Count how many birds, insects and animals you can see. Notice where they are living and what they are doing. Are they hunting for food? Getting a drink or taking a bath? Observe how they coexist in the same area, sharing the same water supply and collecting materials for their homes from the same grasses and trees.
Race to clean up the environment. People make some of the biggest environmental messes that threaten the wellbeing of the earth. Invite your child to help you clean up an outdoor space so it is more hospitable for wildlife. Use small bags and race to see how quickly each of you can fill your bag with trash. Then empty your bag into a larger trash container and race again. Go for best 3 out of 5, then take a break and admire how much better the area looks.
Imagine creative ways to reuse items. One Earth Day slogan is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. Before you throw anything away today, ask your child, “Is there some way we could use this again?” Encourage them to think of fun as well as utilitarian options, such as creating garden sculptures out of empty cans as well as using vegetable scraps for composting. They might imagine building a cardboard fort for a turtle out of old cereal boxes or shredding them for guinea pig bedding. Offer a small prize for the best idea generated and implemented by the end of the day.