GARDENING WITH KIDS
It's okay to get a little dirty
Earth Day is coming up, and what better way to celebrate it than by heading outside? Whether your kids or grand kids are toddlers or teens, your own yard and garden offer countless opportunities to teach and learn about our natural environment and what we can do to take care of it. Outdoor leaning is fun and engaging, helping kids develop an appreciation and love of nature and the landscape that will reward them in many ways throughout their lives.
In celebration of Earth Day, here are six fun outdoor activities that can bring the whole family together to celebrate, protect, and heal our beautiful Mother Earth:
6 Earth Day Activities For All Ages
1. Make a Bat House. Bats play very important roles in the ecosystem. Many bat species are now threatened or endangered, affecting both the natural world and the human economy. Proper habitat is critical to keep bat populations supported; building bat houses is an excellent way for kids to help these beneficial and often misunderstood creatures. This is a project that will require significant adult help and supervision, but it is sure to be a family activity they will remember.
2. Start a Compost Pile. From soil health to recycling to water conservation, the simple act of composting opens the door to an incredible variety of eco-educational opportunities. There are many different compost bin designs to choose from; for instance, you can make a bin from old pallets, scrap wood, concrete blocks, large plastic trash bags, or even hay bales depending on what’s available and how much space you have. Whether you choose to purchase a ready-made compost bin or build one from scratch, starting a compost pile is something any age kid will enjoy helping with and learning from.
3. Plant a Pollinator Garden. Pollinators are everywhere! Not just honey bees and butterflies, but many types of birds, bats, beetles, and even flies do their part to help ensure that the blooms of spring and summer result in a bountiful harvest. Earth Day falling in spring makes it the perfect time to plan and plant a corner of your garden—or maybe even all of it!—to give these important members of the natural community a boost. For tips on pollinator garden construction and plant selection, check out our article on the topic.
4. Create Planters From Recycled Objects. More than 258 million tons of trash are generated in the U.S. each year—and in many states, landfill space is rapidly running out. Many items that are routinely thrown away can be used as planters, keeping them out of the waste stream and putting them to good use in the garden. Challenge your kids to come up with innovative ways to re-use old tires, containers, and other objects to create fun and whimsical garden containers. Once they have their planters assembled, help your kids plant them with the seeds of their choice. Or, take a trip to your local garden center and let them pick out their favorite plants to tuck into their creations for instant results.
5. Plant a Tree. A quintessential Earth Day activity, tree planting is a great way to celebrate Mother Earth. Trees provide a whole slew of lesson opportunities on ecological topics from the water cycle to global warming. Even the smallest tots love to help plant trees; let them help unwrap burlap from the root ball, tenderly pat soil around the roots, and water the newly planted tree. Older boys and girls may enjoy testing their strength and endurance to see who can dig a planting hole the fastest.
6. Host a Party for Mother Earth. What’s even more fun than doing these activities with the whole family? Why, inviting all your friends and neighbors to join in, too, of course! Hosting an Earth Day party is a great way to raise awareness about the environment while having fun in your back yard. If you have an outdoor kitchen or patio and grill, you’re all set to host a party—but no worries if not. You can always make it a pot luck. Either way, see how much of the meal you and/or your guests can source locally. Consider using reusable or recycled paper plates and encourage guests to bring their own silverware to help keep plastic out of the oceans. In addition to the activities above, you can keep everyone entertained with nature-focused games, or go for a group nature hike around the block.
Tips for a Great Earth Day Learning Experience
Keep these principles in mind to make this Earth Day the best ever for both you and your kids:
Involve the whole child.
It’s tempting for those of us who have grown up in traditional educational settings to focus primarily or exclusively on facts and scientific ideas. But there is so much more to being human on planet Earth than just our minds. Earth Day activities provide a fantastic opportunity not only to teach about the web of life, but to help kids experience the connection between mind, body, heart, and spirit.
Keep it positive.
Empower children to become the activists of the future. Show them that they really can make a difference by collecting and sharing some of the many ways the planet has gotten healthier because of the actions of people – like themselves – who care. For example, bald eagles, once headed for extinction, are now becoming a common sight again in many areas of the U.S. thanks to united efforts. Show them how to think globally and act locally.
Finally, listen to your kids.
Ecology and sustainability are very complicated topics that often challenge the understanding of even the most accomplished scientists. Kids are often extraordinarily perceptive, and may have insights that elude adults. Ask your kids what they think about environmental questions—and be prepared to listen and learn as well as teach. Who knows—this Earth Day your kids or grand kids may just come up with ideas that change the future of the planet, right in your own back yard.