Earth Day is about a lot more than taking a walk in the woods or playing some fun yard games with the family (although those are great, and important). Here’s how to teach your kids about Earth Day, celebrate the holiday’s rich history, and maybe even save the planet while you’re at it.
April 22 marks the anniversary of the “birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970” according to the Earth Day Network. But first, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was released in 1962; the book helped raise public awareness of the environmental crisis and launched a major movement. Then, the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, led Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, to take action: He created the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
Twenty million people attended the event, which aimed to raise awareness of the fact that our planet’s resources are finite and will not last forever. The first Earth Day also led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts.
So what exactly should we be teaching kids on this illustrious day? That they are our future. That we must protect Mother Earth, our land, our resources — and truly take care of our planet. It’s what keeps us alive, after all. We should teach them ways to do this every single day, from learning how to recycle and compost to cleaning up litter and protecting animal species and habitats.
Set an example for your kids with your actions. They won’t care about the environment if you don’t too. And all it takes are some small, easy adjustments to lead by example.
- Help clean up litter.
- Take recyclable materials to a recycling center (for more info on recycle do’s and don’ts, visit Waste Management’s website).
- Compost at home.
- Turn out lights when not in use.
- Don’t waste water.
- Reduce fuel emissions by walking whenever possible.
- Program the thermostat to be more energy-efficient.
- Reuse and repurpose rather than using disposable items.
To help kids understand their actions do have an impact on the environment, there are plenty of ways to teach them — be it via magazines, books or movies. The following are great ways to start.
- Movies about the environment: Classic movies for younger kids are Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and FernGully: The Last Rainforest. The Disney film Earth, released on Earth Day 2009, celebrates the natural wonder and beauty of the planet.
- Documentaries: Luckily, Netflix has plenty of documentaries the kids will actually love watching with you, including BBC’s Life, Hidden Kingdoms, Planet Earth II and Chasing Ice.
- Magazines: National Geographic frequently covers ecology topics. Consider a subscription to National Geographic Kids for younger kids.
- Read a book: From younger kids learning the importance of recycling (The Wild Robot by Peter Brown), there are plenty of books that’ll help get the message across.
- YouTube: YouTube has plenty of videos that’ll teach your kids about Earth Day, how to care for the environment, pollution and more.
- 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 5 gallons of water each time you leave the water running while brushing your teeth? That’s a lot of waste! Find more eco-facts here.
- Show them the kids already changing the world: Plenty of kids and teens are already making a difference in their communities, proving there is hope for the future — and reading about them might inspire other kids to do the same. Mother Nature Network has a fantastic list you can start with.
Of course, by heading outside and taking action, your kids will have a blast taking a more hands-on approach to helping the environment. Here are some ways to do so:
- Have an Earth Day block party: Invite all the kids in the neighborhood to plant gardens or trees and pick up trash.
- Volunteer: Participate in fundraisers for ecology and animal projects.
- Donate time: Head to the local recycling center and do your part.
- Go green challenge: Walk, bike, carpool or take the bus for a week, teaching your kids how to reduce greenhouse gases.
- Adopt a road: Just google “adopt a road [your state name]” for info on adopting a road for trash pickup.
The most important lesson: Earth Day shouldn’t be a one-day event. Teach your kids that protecting our planet is an everyday commitment — and one that’s worth it for generations to come.
A version of this story was originally published in April 2018.