Earth Day doesn’t need to be limited to April 22 for you or your children. You can make Earth Day everyday by trying one of these activities that can start conversations about bigger topics.
Shifting the Family’s Lifestyle
Bike, walk, or take public transit to a destination: While it’s easy to assume the way that we normally get to a place is the only way, it’s worth trying out some non-motorized alternatives. Pick a fun destination – like the local ice cream shop – and discover how you can bike or walk there together. Use local bike maps and the bike/walk function on Google Maps to find routes. If you have public transit, try getting somewhere new by bus or train. As the mother of a two-year-old, I can attest toddlers see riding the bus or train as a particularly special treat. This activity can help you rethink your car travel, which is a substantial contributor to the average American’s carbon footprint.
Conduct an energy audit as a scavenger hunt: A home energy audit is the best way to assess how you can save energy and money in your house. While a professional assessment is the most comprehensive, a do-it-yourself audit can help you prioritize changes or upgrades. Although energy audits aren’t most fun thing, turning it into a game can make it more enjoyable for parents and kids alike. Finding all of the energy-inefficient lightbulbs and dragging dollar bills through doors to check for leaks can provide an interesting twist on a traditional scavenger hunt.
Support Wildlife and Habitats
“Adopt” an endangered species: My first act of advocacy was convincing my third grade class to adopt a manatee after I visited Florida’s Homosassa Springs State Park. “Adopting” a specific animal gave our donation a personal connection and encouraged us to learn about a particular species. If you aren’t into manatees, the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and World Wildlife Fund offer similar programs for a variety of species. Most programs come with a certificate, a photo, and even a plush animal, a perfect hook to engage little ones.
Install a bat house: One of the best ways to teach children about wildlife is to observe animals in your own backyard. Seeing real, live animals in their native habitat is exciting in a way that nature movies simply can’t be. While bird feeders are popular, bat houses can provide huge ecological and practical benefits. Bats are truly amazing, with some species able to eat up to 1000 mosquitos in a single night. Bat Conservation International has directions for building your own bat house, recommended vendors for buying one, and tips on where and how to install one. Installing a bat house can also allow you to start conversations about fundamental biological concepts with kids, including habitats and niches, life cycles, and human influence on ecosystems.
Play like kids in other countries: While electronics like smartphones are popular just about everywhere, non-electronic games save energy, get kids outside, and provide physical exercise. To mix it up, have your children try some activities from other cultures. In Sweden, they play a game called Kubb that involves throwing wooden pieces to knock down the other team’s blocks. In Nigeria, kids play Fire On the Mountain, a group game that seems to be similar to musical chairs, but with human partners. Japanese children play Hanaichimonme, a cross between Red Rover and Rock-Paper-Scissors. Indigenous children in Brazil make tops out of tree seeds that “scream” when spun. Relating to other cultures can help children connect to others around the world, essential for developing a broader environmental and justice-oriented ethos.
Build a toy out of recycled materials: Americans spend more than $350 per child annually on toys. As any parent knows, a large number of these are quickly discarded. One way to combat materialism, encourage innovation, and minimize the use of resources is to create your own toys out of recycled materials. The Global Cardboard Challenge invites children to play by stretching their imagination and building toys out of simple materials. Hopefully, the next time your child sees the New Shiny Thing on TV, their experience building their own toys will provide an important counter-narrative.
From changing how kids play to helping making your entire family’s lifestyle more sustainable, these ideas can spark new ideas that go beyond just a day’s worth of activities.