10 Earth Day Activities for Families

Teach your kids every day how to save the Earth! See more green science pictures.
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Earth Day rolls around every April 22, and this year is a good time to celebrate with your family by adopting a few new earth-friendly practices. Volunteering to clean up a local park on Earth Day is a great way to get some fresh air and explore the bounty of the natural world, but it isn't the only option.

From showing your children how to use water wisely around the house to teaching them (and yourself) to reuse and repurpose common household objects, there are lots of activities that will help your family embrace the idea of a lifelong dedication to making every day Earth Day. That's what the movement is all about [source: EarthDay.org].

Let's take a look at 10 ways to make this Earth Day a family affair. From doing chores to heading out on a green picnic, we've got a lot of ground to cover. Let's get started.

10
Do the Laundry Together

Teach your kids about water conservation with a practical example: the laundry. Do a few loads of laundry with your kids and show them that they rely on water (and energy) more than they realize. The average household washes 400 loads of laundry every year, so teaching the younger generation some smart laundry practices on Earth Day makes good sense.

Younger kids like folding laundry, and they even enjoy loading the washing machine, so let them do the honors with you standing by to supervise. Whether you have a front-loader, energy-efficient top-loader or old-style agitator washing machine, watching it fill with water, drain and spin will give your kids a better appreciation for the amount of water it takes to do a load of laundry.

Have a gallon bucket standing buy for comparison and share these laundry facts:

  • The average front-load washing machine uses around 20 gallons in every load.
  • The average agitator top load washing machine uses 40 gallons of water per load.
  • A little more than 20 percent of the average family's indoor water consumption is laundry related. Yikes.

If you have older kids, share these water and energy saving laundry tips with them:

  • Always wash and dry a full load.
  • Most of the energy consumption used to wash clothes is expended heating the water, so whenever possible, use warm or cold water wash settings.
  • Instead of washing really dirty clothes twice, presoak them first. You'll save water and energy.
  • When drying laundry, work assembly line style: Remove a load from the dryer while the drum is still warm, and place a freshly washed wet load inside right away. You'll make use of the residual heat in the dryer and save energy -- and time [source: California Energy Commission].
9
Go Shopping

Environmental advocates believe in recycling and reusing items as much as possible, but sometimes you do need to shop, even if it's just for fun. If you have the itch to go shopping this Earth Day, keep these eco-friendly shopping tips in mind:

  • Group your shopping excursions to save on fuel. Go to the market, the hardware store and the book store in the same trip. Oh, and in the future, consider going to the market once a week instead of once every few days.
  • Keep reusable shopping bags handy. Why? It takes a disposable plastic shopping bag up to 1,000 years to decompose in your local landfill. Don't rely on recycling to take care of the plastic bag problem, either. Only about 1 percent of plastic bags are ever recycled [source: ReuseThisBag.com].
  • Choose goods packaged with or containing recycled materials, and look for the recycle symbol on the goods you do buy.
  • Buy local. When you buy locally grown foods and locally manufactured products, you support your community, reduce the energy waste incurred by transporting goods long distances and often save on packaging waste, too.
8
Start a Compost Bin
Not your average trash duty!
Not your average trash duty!
Pixland/Thinkstock

Composting makes use of kitchen and garden scraps to create black gold, nutrients for the plants in your garden. Composting also keeps useful, organic waste out of landfills. You don't need an expensive setup to start a compost bin, and starting a small compost pile in your backyard this Earth Day is the perfect way to teach your kids about recycling -- nature's way.

Composting isn't difficult. To learn more about composting itself, including how to do it and what can be used from your very own kitchen, check out our article on How Composting Works.

7
Dispose of Hazardous Materials

You know you probably shouldn't put cans of paint, varnish or acetone in the trash, or pour them down the drain, either. Many states and local governments have regulations controlling the disposal of paints, other solvents, batteries and even electronics, as well as authorized drop off sites where you can safely discard them. Earth 911 has a handy interactive page where you can enter your zip code for listing of collection centers that accept hazardous products in your area. You can find it here: Recycling Center Listings (look for the green bar at the top of the page) [source: Earth 911].

This Earth Day, check with the solid waste officials in your community and make arrangements to dispose of that pesky pile of hazardous junk in your garage. You'll help the environment and cross one nasty chore off your list of things to do this season.

6
Volunteer

You may not think you have the time or energy to volunteer, but there are lots of ways you can contribute with just a few hours a week. When you lend a hand on Earth Day and beyond, you help your neighbors and teach your children that becoming involved in environmental causes is worth one of your most precious gifts -- your time.

The key to sticking with a volunteer program is in finding a good match for your skills and interests. To help you find the perfect placement, Volunteer Match has an interactive database of regional volunteer programs. Just key in your location and interests: Find a Great Place to Volunteer.

The folks at the Nature Conservancy have a similar listing for conservation efforts across the country. Click on your state to discover some interesting and rewarding ways to get your family involved: the Nature Conservancy.

5
Check Your Footprint

If you've ever wondered how much of an impact your family has on the environment, here's your chance to find out. The Earth Day Network site has a Footprint Calculator, a fun and interesting interactive quiz that will show you how your lifestyle affects the planet. Taking the quiz will be an eye opener for you and your kids. Once you know the extent of your footprint, explore a few of the suggestions and activities on this list with an eye toward reducing waste and reusing or recycling valuable resources.

4
Get Back in the Kitchen
Let everyone have a hand in this meal.
Let everyone have a hand in this meal.
Photodisc/Thinkstock

If you're doing more cooking at home these days, you're saving the environment and a little money all at the same time. By hitting the drive-through less often, you're reducing the amount of packaging material you contribute to landfills, as well as the energy necessary to produce, contain and transport all that paper, plastic, polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) and cardboard. That's a step in the right direction. This Earth Day, take it a step further by preparing a meal composed exclusively of locally produced products. Start by shopping at your farmers market for vegetables, eggs, cheese, milk and meat, and opt for items that are organically grown.

If you can't find local food sources, buy foods made with minimal processing. Instead of buying fried chicken, buy a whole fryer. Then cut it up and cook it yourself. You'll receive a triple reward: You'll be taking control of the ingredients you serve your family, reducing your carbon footprint, and saving money into the bargain.

Even better, lose the chicken in favor of a meatless meal on Earth Day. It takes more resources to raise poultry, pork and beef than it does to grow grains and vegetables, so make a wholesome vegetarian meal for a change. As a point of reference, if you became a vegetarian, you would reduce your carbon footprint by more than a ton. Sure, you may not want to go that far -- yet -- but starting a meatless Monday tradition at your house is a healthy, as well as an environmentally responsible, choice. Just think about it.

3
Have a Green Picnic

If the sun is shining and the birds are singing this Earth Day, head out for a picnic. While you're pulling out the hamper and chilling the watermelon, keep these green practices in mind:

  • Keep it local. Pick a location nearby, ideally within walking or bicycling distance. You'll save energy and help keep pollution levels down.
  • Reduce waste. Avoid paper or plastic tableware. Use biodegradable tableware instead.
  • Compost your trash. Yes, that compost pile from No. 8 on our list is hungry for all kinds of scraps, even those from your picnic. Stick those bread heels, fruit peels and compostable plates in a reusable bag and bring them back home. Next season, they may end up as part of your perennial border or herb patch.
  • Keep it natural. Instead of playing softball or listening to the radio, get into nature. Use your Earth Day picnic to explore the natural ecosystems near you. Take a walk or a hike after your picnic. The trees, birds, animals, plants, water features and even the insects you share space with are all vital elements of the world you live in. The more you observe and understand them, the more you'll appreciate nature and the astonishing complexity of planet Earth.
2
Plant a Seed
Planting a tree works, too!
Planting a tree works, too!
Comstock/Thinkstock

Planting a garden is one of the best ways to share the Earth with your children. It will teach them about the seasons as well as the cycle of life. Gardening offers object lessons in the weather, chemistry and the local wildlife. Your kids will also learn that some creatures like worms, bees and ladybugs are good friends to have in an herb garden or vegetable patch with important jobs to do.

To make this a more Earth Day-focused event, choose to plant some native species in your landscape. Native plants are naturally suited to your local microclimate and typically need little if any extra water or special care. Using native plants and species that don't rely heavily on water in your landscape design is called xeriscaping. It's an earth-friendly practice that can reduce your carbon footprint and cut down on your garden chores at the same time. The environment wins and so do you. For more information about the native species in your area, contact the USDA's Cooperative Extension Office nearest you. The USDA's interactive map will get you started: Cooperative Extension System Offices Map.

1
Make a List of Resolutions

As you've gone through our list of family Earth Day activities, you've seen examples of ways to make small environmentally aware changes in your life and the lives of your children. Every change has an impact -- if not today, then tomorrow. When you go on record with your kids by suggesting ways they can conserve, recycle or reuse, you make environmental issues personal and more important in their eyes.

Environmental awareness is a long game. Sometimes it means changing entrenched behaviors without any payoff beyond an abiding faith in a better future. If you believe in what Earth Day stands for, sit down and draft a list of resolutions that will make family life at your house a little more environmentally responsible. Post it on your refrigerator this Earth Day with a little ceremony commemorating this special day as the day you decided to make green your absolutely favorite color. Make it a challenge. Make it a goal. Make it a habit.

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Sources

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