Do you want to share your love of nature with children? Given the opportunity to experience nature, children have an innate sense of wonder for the earth and living things. And Earth Day is a great time to help reconnect children with nature. Think about how you could guide kids in fun educational activities, lead them in hands-on interactions with nature and teach them about actions to protect the natural world.
Many schools are receptive to hosting fun Earth Day activities for students. If you’d like to help with this, consider partnering with a local organization and preparing an agenda of specific activity ideas to present to the school. If you know any teachers at the school, run your ideas past them and ask if they’ll help get your proposal in front of administrators.
Here are some great ways to encourage young environmental stewards in your community.
Early Elementary School
Many playgrounds are largely devoid of nature, and children spend more time indoors than ever before, hindering children’s natural connection to the rhythms of nature. Spark the curiosity of younger children about the workings of the natural world by helping them connect to the earth.
For early-elementary-age children, plan activities where kids can get outside to observe nature.
- A hike or bird-watching activity with a scavenger hunt is a fun way to approach this, but be sure that children learn to respect and protect nature. Although you might task them to find animals, flowers, leaves, rocks, and other natural items, help them understand why they should observe but not disturb living things.
- Turn a walk into an art project and have children draw critters, plants, or an outdoor scene, or teach them how to make bark rubbings.
- If you’re an expert on local edible plants, take small groups to search for common edible weeds — such as dandelions, clover, and sorrel — which are plentiful in April (although this does depend a bit on where you live). Make sure you have permission to take plants and only harvest plants in an area that is free of pesticides and contamination. If you have a large group of children, it is important to not strip the area of any given plant type. Closely supervise young children to ensure they only eat plants that are safe.
Late Elementary School
Children in the upper grades of elementary school often like learning about nature in other parts of the world. Live webcams are an excellent way to observe bald eagle chicks, grazing zebras, or baby elephants in Africa. After observing the animals on the webcam, students can make animal puppets or clay sculptures, draw pictures, or create maps indicating where different species live.
An Earth Day parade is a fun way to get children excited about plants and animals and bring together people of all ages. Use upcycled cardboard boxes, papier-mâché, poster board, and paint to create lively costumes.
Start a school garden to encourage children to eat vegetables, learn about plants, spend time outside and observe the cycles of nature. To encourage gardening at home, plant garden starts indoors with children.
Children at this age can conduct fun science experiments to learn about energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste reduction, resource conservation, and endangered species. The internet is a great resource for projects ranging from building a pizza box solar oven to comparing light bulbs for energy efficiency.
Organize a neighborhood cleanup, visit a nearby science museum, or encourage students to learn about foodprints to promote eco-friendly behaviors at home. Contests and competitions can add a fun element to Earth Day activities and might engage students who wouldn’t otherwise partake. The Energize Schools contest challenges schools to create campaigns to inspire children to benefit the environment.
This is a great age to help build skills while getting out important messages about caring for the earth. Students can create videos or prepare presentations about an environmental issue and present them to other students in the class. The American Museum of Natural History has some lessons for grades 7 to 12 that explore case studies and scientific data.
More projects for older students
- Help students start a green club to sponsor earth-friendly activities and educational events.
- Organize speakers to inform high schoolers about career options in solar energy, recycling, horticulture, and other environmental fields.
- Plan online map activities for students to learn geography and about different climates across the globe.
- Encourage students to make pledges to take action to protect the earth. The EARTHDAY.ORG provides lots of great ideas.
Originally published on April 11, 2018, this article was updated in April 2021.