6 fun ways for families to celebrate Earth Day

Each year, an estimated 1 billion people in nearly 200 countries take part in Earth Day on April 22 – including millions of families getting involved in environmentally inspired actions. In fact, Earth Day and Earth Month provide an ideal time to teach children the importance of protecting the environment. And community events like trash pickup and tree planting and at-home projects also show little ones the power of big change when everyone does their part.

Earth Day was first created 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 reading, as are online Community groups like Nextdoor. Below we have outlined some additional ways you and your family can make a difference and make a difference on Earth Day.

1. Start a family garden. Whether in a backyard, on a balcony, or simply on a sunny windowsill, a garden is an all-round asset to good green habits. It gives kids a chance to see firsthand where their food comes from (and the fun of eating what they grow can even offset picky eating habits). Depending on how big it is, a garden can significantly reduce your family’s carbon footprint (and save money) when it comes to production. After all, playing in the dirt is a productive way for little ones—and developing a green thumb from a young age.

Building a garden doesn’t have to be a complex, expensive project either. A good place to start is to use what you already have on hand: small jars, compostable cups, and egg cartons (and even eggshells) are all great for germinating seedlings. Choose fast-growing seeds that germinate quickly, like lettuce, radishes, cucumber, and green bean varieties (herbs like basil, chives, and cilantro are another good option) along with quality potting soil. (You may eventually need to transplant them to larger containers or outdoors.) Children will be delighted to see what they planted begin to grow, and within weeks your family could be enjoying your first harvest. For more kid-friendly ideas (think stone soup, herbal tea parties, and worm boxes) check out this handy guide to activities near gardens for preschool, elementary, and middle-aged kids.

2. Talk about the birds and the bees. No, not this conversation: instead, discuss how these pollinators, along with butterflies, bats, and other species, are critical parts of our food system, our planet, and, well, our very existence. It’s the perfect transition to building a DIY bird feeder. If you’re pretty crafty and have some extra dishes lying around, you can make a clever food dispenser out of a plate and bowl. Or go low-tech and easily make one out of a plastic bottle, pinecones you’ve collected on a nature hike, or even a toilet paper roll. Hang your bird feeder(s) and enjoy the fun of watching your new feathered friends fly in for a snack – not to mention the feel-good factor of bringing some biodiversity into your outdoor space.

3. Try vermicomposting. Vermiculture — the process of using earthworms for composting — might sound intimidating to a beginner. But Nikita Legall, founder of Oh grow, a blog about home grow projects, says it can be an ideal way to introduce youngsters to the concept of composting. “Because they can actually see the earthworms as opposed to the microbes in traditional composting, this is often a really good starting point for kids,” says Legall. “This is a good opportunity to teach them about the different types of worms and their role in the soil.”

To start, you’ll need a large storage container (ideally not a clear one, since “worms don’t like light,” says Legall); “brown matter” or “litter” for the worms, such as leaves, cardboard, or newspaper; earthworm food (no citrus and vegetable waste is ideal); and earthworms, which you can order from a local worm farm. From there, follow the steps in Legall’s post (or any number of others, like this one, with info on worm farming) and be prepared for some trial and error. But the rewards are worth it: earthworms can eat up to half their weight per day while producing excellent fertilizer, and little ones will love watching these creepy crawlies 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 particularly keen to take a much-needed vacation this summer. But it’s no secret that travel — especially by air — isn’t as kind to the planet as it is to the travelers themselves. This Earth Day is the ideal time to discuss how your family can lighten the footprint of your next vacation whether that means taking the train instead of flying; planning a camping or bikepacking trip; or just stay anywhere (from the destination itself to your hotel) with a proven commitment to sustainable initiatives. Colorado, for example, is a leader in green tourism, from popular destinations like Aspen and Glenwood Springs that run on 100 percent renewable energy to initiatives that encourage visitors to visit responsibly.

5. Start a daily sustainability practice. With all the constant doomsday headlines about a planet in crisis, it’s easy to be overcome by existential anxiety. In fact, environmental anxiety is recognized by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental degradation” — a phenomenon that more and more people, especially the young, are experiencing.

One way to combat fear while educating future champions for the planet is to take action, even small ones. That’s the premise behind OneGreenThing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people to do exactly what its name suggests, every day. “The idea is that doing something every day to connect with the planet — as simple as taking a walk in nature, calling a member of Congress, or composting — can help ease environmental fears and bring about the culture change we advocate.” Big climate policies need solutions,” says OneGreenThing founder Heather White, who has also written a book on the concept. As small as they are, actions like this are a great way to make sustainability a habit for the whole family — not to mention a fun topic of conversation around the table. (And don’t miss it Sierra‘s Guide to Easy Personal and Political Weekly Earth Month Activities.)

6. Gamify goes green. Families with a little more competitive spirit (you know, those whose game nights call for full body armor) can up the excitement of Earth Day’s beach or park clean-ups, or by adding in a few missions. Find prizes or rewards (e.g. no dish use for a week) for whoever picks up the most garbage or plants the most trees. Keep the competition going at home with other mini eco challenges: See who can go the longest without meat, a car or a dryer, for example.

In the meantime, environmentally conscious families willing to increase their carbon offsetting contributions can try broader initiatives like the 30-Day Challenges from Random Acts of Green, a Canada-based, women-led social enterprise. As part of its current Earth Month Challenge, Planet Bootcamp encourages attendees to “approach your green goals the same way you would approach your health and fitness goals,” complete with workout plans and encouraging conversations. Participants log green actions in the free app and see the results of their efforts via impact reports.

Organizers say they see an increase in the number of actions logged when an element of friendly competition is involved, along with a fixed time window. “By gamifying climate action, we can help people overcome the initial paralysis that occurs when they hear bad news,” said Jessica Correa, CEO of Random Acts of Green. “No matter what environmental issue is causing nightmares — food waste, ocean plastic, or climate change — they all demand the same thing: people acting together.”

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