Each year, approximately 1 billion people in nearly 200 countries participate in Earth Day on April 22, including millions of families who take part in eco-inspired actions. Indeed, Earth Day and Earth Month offer an ideal time to educate children about the importance of preserving the environment. And community events like litter picking and tree planting, as well as home projects, also demonstrate to little ones the power of big change when everyone does their part.
Earth Day began in 1950, and these days it’s easier than ever to find an event to attend: these Sierra Club activities are a great place to start, as are online community groups like Nextdoor. . Below, we’ve outlined a few more ways for you and your family to get out there and make an impact on Earth Day.
1. Start a home garden. Whether in a backyard, on a balcony, or simply perched on a sunny windowsill, a garden is a total win for establishing good green habits. It offers kids the chance to see first-hand where their food comes from (and the enjoyment of eating what they grow can even offset picky eating habits). Depending on its size, a garden can significantly reduce your family’s carbon footprint (and save money) when it comes to production. Finally, it’s a productive way for toddlers to play in the dirt and start cultivating green thumbs from an early age.
Building a garden doesn’t have to be a complex and expensive project either. A great way to start is to use what you already have on hand: small pots, compostable cups and egg cartons (and even eggshells) are all ideal for sprouting seedlings. Choose fast-growing seeds that germinate quickly, such as lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and green bean varieties (herbs including basil, chives, and cilantro are another good option) as well as a high quality potting soil. (You may eventually need to transplant them into larger containers or outdoors.) Kids will be thrilled to see what they planted begin to grow, and in a few weeks your family could be feasting on your first harvest. For more kid-friendly ideas (think stone soup, herbal teas, and worm bins), check out this handy guide to garden-adjacent activities for preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and tweens.
2. Talk about birds and bees. No, not this conversation: instead, discuss how these pollinators, along with butterflies, bats, and other species, are essential parts of our food system, our planet, and, well, our existence. It’s the perfect transition to building a DIY bird feeder. If you’re handy enough and have extra dishes, you can make a nifty feeder out of a plate and a bowl. Or go low-tech and easily fashion a model from a plastic bottle, cones collected during a nature hike, or even a toilet paper roll. Hang your feeder(s) and enjoy the thrill of watching your new feathered friends fly in for a snack, not to mention the feel-good factor of bringing some biodiversity to your outdoor space.
3. Try vermicomposting. Vermiculture – the process of using earthworms to compost – can seem daunting to beginners. But Nikita Legall, founder of Oh grow up, a blog about home-grown projects, says it can be a perfect way to introduce youngsters to the concept of composting. “Because they can actually see the worms, unlike the microbes in traditional composting, it’s often a great place to start with kids,” says Legall. “It’s a good opportunity to teach them about the different types of worms and the role they play in the soil.
To get started, you’ll need a large storage bin (ideally not transparent, as “worms don’t like light,” says Legall); “brown material” or “litter” for worms, such as leaves, cardboard or newspapers; food for earthworms (leftover fruits and vegetables other than citrus fruits are ideal); and earthworms, which you can order from a local worm breeder. From there, follow the steps on Legall’s post (or any number of others, like this one, with information on vermiculture) and be prepared for some trial and error. But the payoff is well worth it: earthworms can eat up to half their weight a day, creating great fertilizer, and toddlers will love watching these creepy critters work their magic.
4. Plan an eco-friendly family vacation. With summer on the horizon and countless trips canceled due to the pandemic, many families are especially eager to take a well-deserved vacation this summer. But it’s no secret that travel, especially by plane, isn’t as good for the planet as it is for the travelers themselves. This Earth Day is the perfect time to discuss how your family can lighten the footprint of your next getaway, whether it’s taking the train instead of the plane; plan a camping or biking trip; or simply stay somewhere (from the destination itself to your hotel) with a proven commitment to sustainable initiatives. Colorado, for example, is a green tourism leader, from popular destinations like Aspen and Glenwood Springs that are powered by 100% renewable energy, to initiatives encourage visitors to visit responsibly.
5. Start a daily sustainability practice. With all the constant doomsday headlines on a planet in crisis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with existential fear. In fact, eco-anxiety is recognized by the American Psychological Association as “Chronic fear of environmental catastrophe”— a phenomenon experienced by more people, especially young people.
One way to fight anxiety while raising future champions for the planet is to take action, however small. This is the premise behind OneGreenThing, a non-profit organization designed to empower people to do exactly what its name suggests every day. “The idea is that doing one thing every day to connect with the planet — as simple as taking a nature walk, calling a congressman, or composting — can help relieve eco-anxiety and create life change. culture we need for great climate policy solutions,” says Heather White, founder of OneGreenThing, who is also write a book on the concept. Small as they are, such actions are a great way to start making sustainability a habit for the whole family, not to mention a fun conversation starter at the dinner table. (And don’t miss SierraEarth Month Simple Personal and Political Weekly Activities Guide.)
6. Gamify green. Families with a bit more of a competitive spirit (you know, those whose game nights call for full armor) can up the excitement of Earth Day beach or park cleanups or by adding the stakes. Find prizes or rewards (no dish service for a week, for example) for picking up the most trash or planting the most trees. Continue the competition at home with other mini eco-challenges: see who can go the longest without eating meat, take the car or use the clothes dryer, for example.
Meanwhile, eco-conscious families ready to increase their carbon offset contributions can check out broader initiatives like the 30-Day Challenges by Random acts of green, a Canadian social enterprise run by women. As part of its current Earth Month challenge, Bootcamp Planet encourages attendees to “approach your green goals the same way you would approach your health and fitness goals,” with workout plans and pep talks. Participants register green actions on the free app and see the results of their efforts via impact reports.
Organizers say they see an increase in recorded acts when there is an element of friendly competition involved, as well as a fixed time window. “By gamifying climate action, we can help people overcome that initial paralysis that occurs when they hear catastrophic news,” says Jessica Correa, CEO of Random Acts of Green. “No matter which environmental issue gives you nightmares – food waste, plastics in the ocean or climate change – they all require the same thing: people acting together.”