Celebrate and Educate This Earth Day
- Monday, 19 April 2010
One of my fondest memories as a child is, oddly enough, spending two Saturdays volunteering at a recycling depot. The depot—which was held monthly in my town—was in an old, small warehouse with bare concrete floors and no heat. The local environmental center ran the depot to collect recyclables that the city wouldn't pick up in the curbside recycling program. I was there with my Girl Guide troop and it was fall, so we were all bundled up in coats. But the work kept us plenty warm. I helped rip plastic windows out of envelopes (this was back when they couldn't be recycled with the paper), and as fast as we could sort, people were bringing more in. But what I really remember is the sense of accomplishment: I was actively doing something to help the planet.
Earth Day is coming up quickly, and a lot of parents might be wondering what they can do with their kids to both celebrate and educate—a task all the more daunting if the age range of your children spans several years.
Environmental issues can seem too complex for young children to understand, but young kids can easily understand basic ideas, and they can often understand parts of complex ideas too. There are lots of things we can do with children to teach them about environmental responsibility from an early age, so that they carry that respect for the environment with them throughout life. A lot of these activities are appropriate for kids of all ages.
Get Back to Nature
Visit a national or state park, go on an eco hike, or just explore the parks in your community to reconnect with nature. Show your children native wildflowers, or teach them about fungi in the woods. Many state and national parks also have educational programming for kids to teach them about local wildlife or plants.
Know the Recyclables
Teach your children about the various recyclables, including the numbers on plastics. Gather together examples of paper, aluminum (make sure there are no sharp edges!), glass, and plastics numbered 1 through 7. For older kids who already know the basics, you can work on learning the plastics numbers. If your kids are into crafts or building things, you could also make and/or label recycling bins for each type of item.
Clean Up Your Neighborhood
Do you ever notice how young kids like to help mom and dad tidy things up? Well put that helpfulness to work cleaning up litter in the neighborhood. Before you being, lay out ground rules about any items kids should not touch (for example, broken glass); parents can handle the not-safe-for-kids clean-up. Give each child gloves and a bag and make a game out of it. If your older kids aren't too thrilled with the "forced labor," consider a reward for the good deed—perhaps tickets to the movies, dinner at a favorite restaurant, or even a post-clean-up manicure.
Put Pen to Paper
There's a saying in the letter-writing world: one letter represents 50 people who share the opinion; in other words, only one in 50 people goes to the effort to write a letter about something that's annoying them. Encourage your kids to write a letter to a company that is failing to be environmentally responsible. Excessive packaging is a classic example, but you could also send a letter to a company that uses harsh chemicals or produces a lot of pollution.
Volunteer with an Eco Organization
There are lots of volunteer programs you and your children can offer your help to, and lots of ways to help with any organization. You might collect donations, plant trees in local parks, or help prep a community garden for spring planting. The list of options can go on and on. Many local groups will be increasing their efforts to get people involved in the lead-up to Earth Day, so it won't be hard to find a worthy cause.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more family-friendly activities you can do on Earth Day—and any day for that matter. All it takes is a little effort, but your kids will be better environmental stewards for it.
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