Earth Day is just a few days away. Here are some hands-on activities to do with young kids to help them gain a better understanding of the environment, and help them have a more genuine Earth Day celebration.
Plant a Seed
Somewhat cliche, but planting a seed indoors can be a great way for kids to connect with the environment. The fact that a plant, flower, or tree can grow from a single seed is truly amazing. The sight of a sprouting plant never gets old for kids and adults, alike. Ask your child what kind of seeds they would like to plant, or try following these steps to sprout an apple seed from a finished apple.
Make a Terrarium and Learn About the Water Cycle
What goes up, must come down—and the same goes for our planet’s water. Water from rivers, lakes, oceans, and streams evaporates, condenses into clouds, cools, and falls back to earth as rain. Human industrial activity can produce pollution that changes the acidity of rainwater. Rainwater that is too acidic can kill freshwater fish, and even erode mountains. Making a terrarium and observing the water cycle is a great way to exemplify that pollution in our air can come back down to land trapped in rain, and cause secondary damage to the earth’s landscape and its ecosystems.
Grab a jar and send your child outside to collect a layer of pebbles, sand, and some dirt, then moss, grasses, and leaves. Add water, cover the jar, and place it in a sunny spot. Observe condensation forming over the next few days; you can even take the lid off and see droplets on the lid. These droplets will fall back down and water the plants, and the cycle will repeat. Watch the plants inside the terrarium thrive. Talk with your child about what would happen if the water was toxic. Would the plants survive? To observe this, make another terrarium, and this time add a water and vinegar solution. The acidic vinegar dissolved in the water will have a lower pH and can mimic acid rain.
Take a Walk and Make a Journal
Whether you live in a city, the suburbs, or the country, plants and trees are blooming this time of year. Take a walk and try to see how many different types of plants you can identify. Take pictures of ones that are unfamiliar, and try to identify them later with the help of books and the internet. When you get home, make a drawing, painting, or clay sculpture of some of the plants you saw on your walk.
Make a Worm House
Kids probably hear the word “compost” thrown around a lot this time a year, and at Earth Day celebrations. Observe a homemade worm house for a few weeks, and your kids can gain a greater appreciation for why composting is so important and how it works.
When we throw our food scraps into the garbage, it ends up in the landfill. Americans produce 34 million tons of food waste each year. Landfills are airtight, so while the food will rot, it will be anaerobic bacteria that will break the food down. This process gives off methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Alternatively, no methane is produced when food scraps are broken down by aerobic bacteria and invertebrates in soil.
Take a jar or clear plastic container and fill with layers of sand, dirt, and soil. Dig for worms and add them to the dirt. Spray the top soil layer with water, then add dying grass, leaves, carrot peels, or even cornmeal. Cover with tin foil, poke holes in the tin foil, and place in a cool, dark area of your home. Watch over the week as worms mix the layers and eat the organic matter. Eventually, all the matter will be broken down by the worms and bacteria in the soil, resulting in a rich soil. You can continue to add food for the worms or set them free. If you keep your worm house for over a week, make sure to spray with more water.
Once your child observes how worms break down organic matter, add a piece of plastic to the top layer. Can the worms and bacteria break down plastic? Could anaerobic bacteria in a landfill break down plastic? If not, what happens to non-recycled plastic?
Draw a Food Web
Have your child pick their favorite animal, find out what it eats, and then draw a food web together. All food webs start with a green plant and end with a top predator. Any disruption to the growth of the original green plant can affect the whole chain. Additionally, any negative affects on the habitat or well being of one of the animals in the chain can also disrupt the chain. After you have drawn the chain, talk about how human activity can affect each step in the chain. What if chemicals kill the plant? What happens if some of the animals live in trees and the trees are all cut down? How does urban sprawl affect animal habitats? How can global warming and pollution affect these food chains?
Do a Little Garbage Day Math
On garbage day, go outside with your child and count how many garbage cans are on your block waiting to be emptied. How many gallons of garbage does each can hold? How many gallons of garbage were taken from your block that day? How many gallons of trash does your street produce in a month? In a year? This exercise can be a great way for kids to visualize exactly how much waste we as a society produce. The importance of reduce, reuse, recycle might have more meaning after this exercise.
Write an Earth Day To-Do List
Ask your child what Earth Day means to them. What do they want to do to help the earth?
Have fun, and happy Earth Day!