Each Earth Day, I see many blog posts that feature crafts and activities kids can do to celebrate the day. These are lots of fun and good learning opportunities (in fact, you’ll find a Earth Day craft in this post!) But what else can Earth Day for kids look like? What are some simple yet concrete things kids can do to protect our planet and speak up for the earth? In this post I share 9 ideas of things kids and families can do, beyond the usual basics like recycling.
Earth Day for Kids: 9 Ways to Protect the Planet Year Round
As parents and teachers, we often underestimate the change that kids are capable of making. At home, at school, in the community, and even by helping get laws passed that protect the planet, children can be leaders in caring for the planet.
1. Search for energy vampires – and zap them
I often joke that our four year old is an energy vampire, draining my own energy to fuel his seemingly boundless supply. But that’s not the kind of energy vampire we’re talking about here! Energy vampires are home appliances that still use significant electricity when they’re in standby or charging mode. Video games, cell phone chargers, microwaves, and plugged in MP3 players are chief culprits.
One of the most direct ways to stop these vampires from sucking energy is to buy a smart power strip and plug items that are often on standby into them. But if you want to go to that expense, you could also ask your children if they want to help zap the energy vampires.
Walk with them through the house, looking for items that could be unplugged, like the microwave when it’s not in use or a television in a guest bedroom. Kids can also do nightly unplugging round before bed, looking for things like phone chargers that are still plugged in even if they’re not being used.
2. Find an alternative to bottled water at your next sports or school gathering
While bottled water is marketed as healthy, it’s certainly not healthy for the planet. Two thirds of plastic water bottles are never recycled. If they are incinerated, they release toxic fumes. It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil each year to manufacture plastic water bottles for the United States market. That doesn’t even include the oil that’s used to transport the bottled water to the market.
If your child is on a sports team where bottled water is regularly brought to games or practices, ask your child if she’d like to talk to other kids and parents about an alternative. Could everyone pitch in to buy a large cooler to dispense water?
Or if you’re not ready for a group effort, your child could start by bringing her own reusable bottle to events. (Don’t reuse the disposable water bottles though; they can leach harmful chemicals after being washed.)
3. Ask your child to nag you into taking your reusable bags to the store
If you’ve read this far, chances are that you have some reusable shopping bags around your house. The problem is likely that you don’t remember to take them with you to the store. All you need is your child to pester you into remembering.
Let me share a personal story about how good kids are at this. When I was in elementary school, I read the book 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. I considered it my special mission to tell my parents all the things they were doing that were hurting the earth. “Dad! Do you know how many gallons of water you are wasting by leaving the water running when you shave?!?!”
It was annoying, I’m sure. But you know what? He stopped doing it, and now 27 years later, my Dad is always looking for ways to reduce their home’s environmental impact. He always makes sure to tell me about it, probably thinking back to the whole shaving incident.
Explain to your child why you want to stop using so much plastic, and tell him that you need his help. Before you set out to the grocery store, it’s his job to gather up the reusable shopping bags.
After he helps you unload the groceries, his job is to gather up all the bags and put them back in the car, so that you won’t forget them next time. You can make this job more interesting by keeping a running tally of how many plastic bags you’ve avoided using!
4. Earth Day for Kids Project: Raise Money for Clean Water Efforts
Kids can multiply the impact they have on the planet by asking others to get involved. 1 in 10 people worldwide lack access to clean water. The hours that people spend each day to obtain dirty water impacts their lives in many ways, as kids can learn in this video from Charity Water.
Whether your child would like to keep it simple with something like a lemonade stand, or get more high tech and email grownup friends and family to ask for their help, Charity Water makes it easy for kids and grownups alike to raise money for clean water.
5. Look for toys with less packaging and that are made from recycled materials
Have you ever explained to your child that the three arrows in the recycling symbol represent reduce, reuse, and recycle? The amount of packaging used for typical toys is ridiculous, and a lot of it can’t be recycled. When you’re shopping for another child’s birthday party, let your child help you scout out gifts that have less packaging and that are made from recycled materials. One of our favorite brands for toddlers and preschoolers is Green Toys.
If you have a child that loves board games, most of the games produced by Peaceable Kingdom are made from recycled materials.
Another way to celebrate Earth Day for kids is to reuse household materials for fun activities. Save up a couple of toilet paper rolls and download this Planet Protectors Superhero Cuffs craft.
6. Explore campaigns to help the earth at DoSomething.org
DoSomething.org is a website designed to help teens across the country and around the world join together in campaigns to protect the environment, stand up against discrimination, fight poverty and more. It’s easy to explore their campaigns by cause and how long want your activity to take. For example, they currently have a Week Without Oil activity that helps young people identify things they use that were produced using oil.
Keep in mind that this is a site designed for teenagers, so you may find some of the language inappropriate for younger children. I like to use the site on my own to browse for ideas to do, and then share those with my child.
Earth Day for Kids: Social Justice Activities
Up to this point, the activities I’ve suggested are mostly focused on your own family’s personal environmental impact. That’s a great place to start. If we really want to multiply our efforts to protect the planet, we also have to look at the decisions that governments and corporations make. The last three activities on this list are ones that explore how kids can seek justice for the planet.
7. Write to your members of Congress as a family about environmental issues
The idea of involving your children in writing letters to Congress might sound strange at first. Assuming that you’re asking your children if they want to do this, and not forcing them, this is a great way to teach them about democracy. Handwritten letters (not petitions or emails) are one of the best ways to get the attention of elected officials.
As an adult, you can write a letter that has a bit more detail about the particular environmental issue you care about. Depending on your child’s age, she can draw a picture or write a simple 1 to 3 sentence letter that you can include as well.
You can find all of your elected officials and their addresses on the League of Women Voters website. Not sure what issues are important to write about right now? Two leading environmental organizations that have actions people can take on their websites are the Environmental Defense Fundand the Sierra Club.
8. Join the IMatter youth movement to stop global warming
Alec Loorz started IMatter when he was 12 years old because he wanted to give youth a way to take action on the climate crisis. IMatter now focuses on organizing groups of young people, especially through schools, to get local governments to reduce their impact on global warming. They offer a variety of sophisticated resources through their website.
Even if your child is not ready to take on an ambitious project like this, there is an online petition he can sign to support the effort.
9. Participate as a family in the People’s Climate March on April 29th
On April 29th, thousands of people are expected to gather in Washington, DC for the People’s Climate March. There will also be sister marches in locations across the country. Participating as a family is a great way to have conversations with your children about the democratic process and what actions are needed to protect the earth.