Every day isn't Earth Day, but it should be. You probably do your best to make sure your children are environmentally responsible -- even the youngest kids can learn how to put things in the trash and why it's not a good idea to leave the bathroom faucet running. You can lead by example by demonstrating good recycling practices, picking up litter, turning off unused lights and shunning plastic grocery bags. But sometimes, the entire family needs a little kick start.
Even if your kids know the basics of being green, it never hurts to have a special occasion for really driving your examples home. Earth Day is an opportunity to bring these lessons into sharper focus. We're not saying you have to sit your kids down and lecture them about programming the thermostat, composting and using compact fluorescent light bulbs. That would probably backfire and cause them to go on some sort of destructive environmental rampage -- so may we suggest the gentler (and much more fun) "playing games" method? Your kids will have a great time, and they'll learn much more in a hands-on manner than they would reading a book or watching a movie about environmental responsibility.
So, without further ado, here are five entertaining (and educational) kids' activities for Earth Day.
This might be the easiest scavenger hunt you've ever organized -- no need to hide anything or buy items for the kids to find. Just let them loose in the backyard with a simple list of common backyard items: sticks, stones, feathers, flowers, bugs, different-colored leaves, whatever you can think of. Older kids can build fairy houses and find patterns in nature. And if you play your cards right, you can have your yard cleaned up for free: Give bonus points for litter that can be trashed or recycled.
For older kids who might be bored with a run-of-the-mill scavenger hunt, why not give geocaching a shot? It's like a high-tech, interactive treasure hunt. The only thing you'll need is a handheld GPS device. The kids can go to Geocaching.com, enter their location and check out a list of sites where people have hidden geocaches (airtight containers that hold small items). The sites are identified only by their geographical coordinates and maybe a short description, so once the kids have entered the coordinates into the receiver, they're off on an adventure to find the geocache.
There are lots of ways to teach kids about recycling, and one of the most exciting is a race or contest. The competition can take any number of forms: You can race to clean up a neighborhood park and separate the recyclables (be sure to wear gloves!) or sort what's already in your home recycling bin. If your local recycling center offers cash for cans or bottles, you can determine the winner that way!
After you're done collecting and sorting your household (or park) recyclables, you don't have to send them straight to the recycling center. Make crafts with that "junk" and teach your kids that there are lots of different kinds of recycling. You're limited only by your imagination here: Milk jugs can become watering cans or planters; egg cartons make great bugs and flying mobiles; coffee cans are perfect flowerpots. And get your old clothes into the mix by turning them into dress-up costumes.
Earth Day is the perfect time to embark on a large family project like a garden, but if you don't have the space or the inclination for such an endeavor, there's no shame in starting small. Planting just about anything -- even a tiny windowsill plant -- is a valuable lesson for kids on how plants grow and how to nurture them.
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- Deal, Heidi. "Six Ways Preschoolers Can Celebrate Earth Day." Parents.com. (April 1, 2012) http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/activities/outdoor/earth-day-activities-preschoolers/
- Education World. "Activities to Celebrate Earth Day." (April 1, 2012) http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson174.shtml
- Geocachingkids. "How do Kids Start Geocaching?" (April 1, 2012) http://www.geocachingkids.com/
- Kaboose. "Earth Day Crafts." (April 1, 2012) http://crafts.kaboose.com/holidays/earth-day/earth_day_crafts.html
- The Nature Conservancy. "Nature Treasure Hunt." (April 1, 2012) http://my.nature.org/kids/TreasureHunt_HRpdf-1.pdf
- PBS Kids. "Earth Day Games." (April 1, 2012) http://pbskids.org/games/earthday.html
- Wells, Ted. "Six Earth Day Activities for Your Classroom." Huffington Post, April 22, 2009. (April 1, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ted-wells/six-earth-day-activities_b_187517.html