Children go through many stages of learning about the world around them. As they observe and explore their surroundings they build a foundation for how the world works and where they fit in. It is during our earliest years of life where we develop our feelings and attitudes toward the environment that can impact interactions for years to come. It is critical that we expose children to all aspects of nature and the environment in positive ways in order to promote positive values for the planet.
Environmental education at every stage of childhood development helps young learners connect to the built and natural world and discover how their actions can have positive and negative impacts. Providing environmental education at a young age can help foster curiosity, creativity, teamwork, independence, and stewardship values throughout a lifetime.
All About Earth Day
Earth Day is April 22. (For basic Earth Day background, see this article). Each year there is a different theme. For example, the Restore Our Earth theme includes thinking about natural systems restoration, innovative technology solutions, and building climate literacy within individuals around the world. While we can’t expect our youngest learners to tackle one of the most pressing issues of our time, we can introduce actions and concepts at age-appropriate levels to let children know that they have a valued voice in the environmental movement and we can all do our part to protect the planet.
Here are some ways to encourage your child to explore and appreciate the environment.
- Paint popsicle sticks in different colors and hide them around your backyard for your little ones to find. As they find different ones in different areas show them how different animals use camouflage in that same way to hide from predators.
- Teach your little one about natural resources by using buckets and jugs to collect rainwater to water your indoor plants.
- Turn old baby clothes that have stains or tears into cleaning rags and towels to use around the house.
- Have ‘unplug hours’ where the whole family turns off all electronic devices and appliances within the house to spend time together outside in nature.
- Take seeds from your eaten fruits and vegetables to grow your own plants at home. Kids will be able to learn about the life cycle of plants and see where their food comes from.
- Go to your local hardware store and buy native seedlings to plant an at-home garden or container garden with flowers or herbs.
- Collect seeds from your garden at the end of the growing season to replant them next year.
- Learn about your local pollinators and pollinator-friendly flowers and herbs to make your home garden native to the region you reside in. This also teaches about the importance of the circle of life and important relationships within nature that we humans rely on.
- Collect food scraps and teach about how to separate out different types of dairy, meat, and plant waste to properly add to your compost pile or your community’s compost pile. For more about food waste, see this article.
- Take the family to the local superstore and make a game to allow everyone to pick out their own reusable water bottles. Teach the importance of reusable water bottles as opposed to using plastic water bottles. The same can be done with reusable utensils, containers, and straws.
- Learn how to recycle by making a game out of putting the correct items in the designated bin.
- As a family, cut up your plastic bags into long strips of ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn) to donate to various organizations that collect plarn to turn into sleeping mats for the homeless.
- At the end of every quarter have your little one choose 1 to 3 toys that haven’t been played with in a few months to be donated to a charity.
- Have your child tell you your favorite song and listen to it together. If the song is less than 5 minutes long, tell your child that this is the song that they can listen to while in the shower and that it’s important to reduce our total use of water.
- Go on a trash hike where you cleanly pick up trash and note the importance of clean waterways and untouched nature.
Earth Day can be every day of the year with these easy—and fun—tips to help the planet. Happy Exploring!
Miranda Custer is an education intern at EARTHDAY.ORG, and is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park in Biology – Ecology and Evolution. On the weekends you can find her at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD as a guest engagement aide educating guests on conservation and the animals who. call the aquarium home. Miranda will be continuing her education this summer with a Masters of Education, specializing in middle school science, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Check out EARTHDAY.ORG’s Education Resource Library for more ideas to help the planet year-round!
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