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The most rewarding way to celebrate Earth Day with your kids

Nina Spitzer is a SheKnows.com columnist and a freelance writer living in sunny Cave Creek, Arizona.

Start your Earth Day family traditions now and leave behind a legacy of shared responsibility

Most of the time, we view Earth Day as a fun springtime holiday to finally get the kids outdoors after a long winter. And while there's nothing wrong with having a little fun on a day that celebrates Mother Earth, it's all too easy to miss the deeper meaning. Teaching our kids to care about the planet at a young age is essentially giving them a gift — by preserving the planet our kids and our grandkids are going to live on.

Why is it important to teach kids about Earth Day?

On April 22, 1970, approximately 20 million people nationwide attended the first Earth Day celebrations, bringing to light the fact that this planet's resources are finite and will not last forever. The day was meant to inspire people to preserve and protect what Mother Earth has given us. "We only have one earth, so we have to take care of her," Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, said.

More: 5 ways gardeners can celebrate Earth Day

Our children are the future, and the fate of this planet is not only in our hands but in theirs, too. Once we've used up and destroyed the resources of our Earth, there's no turning back. The most important thing for kids to know is that Earth Day is not one day of celebrating by creating more garbage, but instead a reminder of what we should be doing all year long.

Learning through example

As a parent, you probably know that kids learn by watching (both the good and the bad). This double-edged-sword effect of parenting can have a big impact on Earth Day as your kids watch you work to protect and preserve the environment.

Here are some easy ways to show kids what Earth Day is really all about:

  • Not littering
  • Taking recyclable materials to a recycling center (for more info on recycle do's and don'ts click here)
  • Turning out lights when not in use
  • Not wasting water
  • Reducing fuel emissions by walking whenever possible
  • Program the thermostat to be more energy efficient
  • Reusing and repurposing rather than using disposable items

Remember to not only do these things but also talk about why these Earth-saving practices are important. Kids will follow in your footsteps once they understand the value in what they're doing.

More: Top planet-friendly finds for Earth Day

Environmental awareness

Our kids won't understand how fragile the environment is unless we tell them. Whenever possible, use various means to teach kids about ecology and species extinction. Help them to understand that what they do does have an impact, for better or worse.

Look for teaching opportunities like:

  • Movies on the environment: Great movies for younger kids are Dr. Seuss' The Lorax and FernGully: the Last Rain Forest. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is a perfect starting point for a discussion with your teens. The Disney film Earth, released on Earth Day 2009, celebrates the natural wonder and beauty of the planet.
  • TV programs:  A couple of really good ones are Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for a Small Planet and National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth.
  • Magazines: National Geographic frequently covers ecology topics. Consider a subscription to National Geographic Kids magazine for younger kids.
  • Internet sources:  You can Google any topic on the environment for a wealth of information and pictures. Go to YouTube for excellent, informative online environmental videos for all age levels.
  • Speakers at the local zoo, wildlife preserve and botanical garden: Online lists of U.S. zoos and U.S. botanical gardens will help you locate potential environmental family field trips.
  • Share eco-facts: Did you know you waste up to five gallons of water each time you leave the water running while brushing your teeth? Wow! That's a lot of waste! Find more eco-facts from SheKnows.
  • Spend time outdoors appreciating the beauty you don't want to lose!

Most of all — talk about it! Discussions about ecology at the dinner table or in the car will let kids know this is a topic important to you. And when something is important to you, your kids care about it, too.

More: Earth Day challenge: 6 expert tips for simple but effective ways to go green

Teach kids how to give back to Mother Earth

If you've been meaning to volunteer as a family, now is the perfect time to act. Earth Day-themed family volunteer opportunities can stress the importance of giving back to the community and to our planet. Even better, family volunteer projects create valuable bonding time and at the same time teach kids about environmental concerns.

Try family activities like:

  • Clean up litter in your community
  • Participate in fundraisers for ecology and animal project
  • Plant a tree to beautify your neighborhood
  • Donate time at the local recycling center
  • Adopt a road for trash pickup
  • Find opportunities to share environmental awareness with others

Earth Day is only one day a year, but saving our planet for our own kids and future generations is a life-long endeavor. By celebrating Earth Day, at the very least, you're teaching your kids how important it is to protect our planet. And, at the very most, you're showing them that one person really can make a difference.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

Start your Earth Day family traditions now and leave behind a legacy of shared responsibility
Image: Amy Vowles/SheKnows

Updated by Bethany Ramos on 4/20/2016

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