Photos and story by Monica Guthrie
When I was really little, I spent an afternoon picking up trash in my neighborhood. I thought I did a great thing, my mom however wished I’d worn gloves and immediately told me to go wash my hands. Since then I’ve adopted new ways to be eco-friendly (recycling, trying to use renewable resources, etc.,) because it’s important to be mindful of our impact on the earth.
So for this Earth Day (April 22) I thought I’d put together some activities for my little ones. The youngest is too young now to really understand the “why” but he can learn that helping the earth can be fun and I’m okay with creating a connection between “fun” and “earth day” even if it is a fragile connection. Added bonus: It gives them something to do on a Saturday when I’m out of clever things to do.
Grow a seed (5 minutes)
I remember doing this in elementary school. We took a dry pinto bean (or any dry bean), taped it to the inside of a zip-lock bag, added some water (very little), zipped it up and taped it to a sun-facing window. Then we watched it grow through the clear plastic. This doesn’t take a lot of time to set up but it does provide for weeks of education. The best part is that even if you’re like me and don’t know anything about plants, you can talk about how seeds need water and sunlight to grow and they get excited watching their plant grow.
Make a garden (1 hour – depending on if you need to go shopping)
This actually interested both my 11-year-old boy and my 3-year-old who wanted to “bring the butterflies” to our home. Pick up a small planter and seeds from the dollar store and then head over to a home improvement store and get some “good soil” (I don’t have a green thumb so I had to ask someone what “good soil” was for what I was planting). Then follow the directions on the seed packs. Much like the “grow a seed” idea above, you’ll have to wait to enjoy the rewards but it gives you repeated activities (regular watering, occasional weeding, and then finally enjoying the flowers or fruits/vegetables you have grown). If you want a head start, you can always get the small planters that already have sprouting plants and add them to your garden. Then you just wait for the flowers to bloom or the vegetables to grow.
Nature collage (1 hour – depending on how long you search for items)
This one is probably the easiest of the ideas. Take some paper (I had some construction paper but you can use regular printer paper – or – if you’re feeling extra recycle-y, you can take some old mail and use it as the base of the collage. Then take the children outside and collect things from nature: leaves, rocks, flowers, acorns – anything (bring bags to carry the items) Come back and glue them onto the paper. Older kids can try to make designs or maybe make a monogram.
Note: If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can then spray paint the entire work. If they make a monogram, you can spray paint the entire thing (I love metallic paints) and then once it all dries, have them cut it out and hang it up in their room.
Mud pie kitchen (all day long)
I totally stole this idea from a website I saw once. Really it just takes something every kid did (or saw someone do) and makes it fancy. Find some dirt, add water, and tada! You have mud! But to make it fancy, bring out some pots and pans you don’t care for, or maybe some cookie cutters, a funnel, measuring cups – pretty much anything you don’t mind getting really dirty. Let their mud-pie culinary skills loose. Have a hose nearby to rinse everything (and everyone) off when you’re done.
DIY Bird feeder (30 minutes)
This one is a little messy, which means if you have a toddler, they will love it! Lay some newspaper down before you start the craft for easier clean up. Take a toilet-paper roll (or if you’re feeling ambitious, a paper-towel roll), and poke two holes at one end of the toilet paper roll for string to hang it and four holes on the other end to push popsicle sticks or chopsticks through for the birds to sit on. Then have your child spread peanut butter on it (or if your children is allergic to peanut butter, like mine, you can use Nutella or honey). Then roll the sticky roll onto a plate filled with birdseed (we used sunflower seeds), covering the roll as well as you can with seed. Push sticks through the bottom holes and a string through the top holes. Tie the string and hang it up – then wait for the birds.
Note: We totally tried this with honey and while it was delicious it wasn’t able to hold the seeds to the roll (it wanted to slide down when we put the toilet paper roll upright. I’d stick to peanut butter or Nutella, or do what we did in the end: Find an old egg carton and pour the seeds into it. That was MUCH easier.
Photo journal (1 hour)
Last year I let my oldest use my professional camera when we went on a walk through a local park. I let him take as many photos of the things we saw in nature. When we got home we looked through the hundreds of photos and picked out a few to print. This year we’ll take those photos and put them into a journal with last year’s photos and let him write a few things about what we did and what he saw. Every year we’ll add to it and we can see both how nature changes and also how his photography improves (or doesn’t!). You don’t need a professional camera to make this fun, any camera will do – even a cell phone!
Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.
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