20 Ideas for Celebrating Earth Day
The 22nd of April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. This was started in 1970 by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, after witnessing the damage caused to the environment from the massive Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. In 1990, Earth Day went global with 200 million people, from 141 countries, bringing environmental issues to the world stage.
Since then, Earth Day has grown even bigger and is celebrated each year by more than a billion people worldwide. Children are now voicing their concerns about climate change, following the lead of inspirational, 16 year old Swede, Greta Thunberg and are skipping school to demonstrate for action.
But why don’t more early years settings introduce their children to sustainable practices? After all, the earlier we introduce this, the more likely it is that they will grow up to become environmentally aware citizens themselves.
It is not as difficult as you may think to begin a journey towards sustainability with children, as many will be familiar with recycling at home. But do they know why we recycle? The CBBC series Come Outside, has a number of programmes related to this topic. The episode on Rubbish will provide young children with a greater understanding of just how much rubbish is thrown away each day, and what we can all do to help reduce this.
How are you Going to Celebrate Earth Day?
There are many examples, online, of Earth Day activities that can be created indoors. However just being outside with your children is a much better way to celebrate. Get them outside and interacting with the real world not a facsimile! Here are some ideas which cater for a range of weather.
Spend the whole day outside. If you are in a setting that plans through themes then why not give the day over to the children, go outside and follow their lead. Provide them with lots of loose materials to play with and you can sit back and observe how children learn best by following their own interests. On sunny day set up shady areas and provide children with lots of water to drink. On a rainy day, why not set up a den under a large tarp for story telling whilst drinking hot chocolate?
Hold a walk to… day. Set up an area, if you don’t already have one, for children to park scooters and bikes. Make it a mufti day – Tell the children to dress in green or make it a bit of fun by getting them to use recyclable materials to make a costume. You could ask for a donation of £1, from each parent, and use this to buy some resources for planting.
Plant some sunflower seeds. Each child can plant a seed, in a compostable pot, and look after it. You can either send them home or plant them in a sunny area outside. After a few weeks, they will have great fun measuring them to see how much they have grown. In the autumn you will reap the benefits by getting hundreds of seeds for FREE. Kids love picking these out with their fingers or tweezers (great for fine motor development) and, dependent on the age of the children in your setting, they can be used for planting, counting, creative arts or as loose materials.
Create nature’s perfume – With a pestle and mortar, crush a range of petals, leaves and berries together. Add a little water and grind again. Pour into small spray bottles and spray for a lovely smell.
Cloud watching – How often do we slow right down and just observe the natural world? Get children to lay on their backs and watch the clouds pass by. Look at the different shapes and sizes. Can they see any pictures in the clouds? What happens to the clouds when there is wind/no wind? Read Eric Carle’s Little Cloud, if you have a copy or, if not watch the video here. Encourage children to make their own cloud pictures outside using shaving cream in tuff trays or, even better on glass or acrylic mirrors as children will be able to look at the reflection of the sky. You can make the paint puffy, and cloud like, by adding glue to the shaving cream. Should you want colour then add a few drops of food colouring.
Chasing the wind – Tie ribbon, or string, to the handles of re-suable shopping bags for children to run around on a windy day. Encourage them to observe any changes in the wind such as strength, direction and the effects that this has on their bag. Fly kites, make windsocks or tie long lengths of ribbon to shrubs or small trees. Throw some feathers in the air – observe what happens to them. Encourage the children to pretend to be a feather floating gently in the breeze or being whipped up wildly by strong gusts of wind. Introduce new vocabulary when commenting on children’s play such as gust, breeze, flurry and gale.
Go for a nature walk – Take the children out and about and make a nature bracelet. Stick double sided tape onto a length of card and wrap it around their wrists. Children can collect leaves, small sticks and petals to decorate their bracelet.
Make a journey stick – Give each child a long piece of string or wool then ask them to find a stick. Ask them to look for objects along the route, which will remind them of their journey. The objects can be attached to the stick by wrapping them with the string or wool. Each stick will be unique and will support children in discussing their journey on their return by acting as a visual reminder.
Go on a litter hunt in your local area. Sort the objects by materials on your return. You can link this to maths by creating either a pictogram, carroll or venn diagram on the ground to display how much of each material was found, how much could be recycled and how much would be sent to landfill. This is a good way to get children talking about the environment and how they have a part to play in looking after it.
Collect rainwater to water the garden. Challenge older children to find ways of harvesting rain water. Challenge younger children to develop a way of transporting water from one place to another e.g from the outside tap to the planting area, without buckets! Provide a range of loose materials to aid the development of trial and error and problem solving.
We’re going on a bee hunt – Look out for dandelions, as these are one of the first flowering plants in spring to attract bees. Observe bee’s carefully and ask open ended questions of the children. Use non-fiction texts to discover the answers to their questions together. Make a Bug Hotel.
Dig over the soil ready for planting for a great gross motor workout. Use child sized tools such as those recently on sale at Lidl. Encourage children to lookout for worms when doing this and use information books to find out all about them. Throw some seed bombs around, particularly those that attract butterflies and bee’s.
Create some environmental art using loose materials outside. Why not link this with St George’s Day, which is the day after on 23rd April, to make a dragon from loose materials?
Create Mandala’s outside by using chalks and/or natural materials. These circular designs are important to Hindu’s and Buddhists as they represent the universe. We had many Hindu families at my school and invited parents to come in to help the children create mandala’s, with beautiful results. Great for parental engagement.
Plant dye art – Hammer leaves and petals onto some absorbent material to create some Hama Zoma artwork. This beautiful art form originated in Japan and is so easy to do with children and it’s great for developing upper arm strength too. If you are short on flowers in your outdoor area, ask parents to bring in cut flowers that are past their sell by date, as these will do just as well.
Plant a herb garden – Herbs are a great addition to any outdoor area. I always had a sensory garden with lots and lots of herbs as there is a wide variety to choose from. Many are also very hardy which is good when there are so many little fingers touching them. Lavender is not officially a herb but are often grown in herb gardens. The strong perfume makes for great sensory bags and they will attract lots of bee’s and other insects into your garden too.
Develop biodiversity in the garden by zoning areas to encourage a range of different wildlife. Create a woodpile or stumpery, let an area of grass grow long so children can look for insects with a butterfly net in the summer or create a small pond from a sink or large dish.
Create bird baths, boxes and feeders by recycling plastic bottles – These are a great way for children to observe birds throughout the year. Provide them with some binoculars for a better look!
Read (or tell) a story outside – Get comfy on cushions and blankets, lay down and listen to a story. Why not read stories with an environmental message such as The Lorax.
Make nature prints. Use round discs of clay to imprint leaves, sticks and flowers. These can be kept natural, or painted then varnished for a beautiful keep sake. Alternatively, children can work together to create a group nature print, on a large length of paper, by dipping leaves, twigs/, berries etc into paint and placing onto the paper.
Whatever you choose to do, just get the children outside, whatever the weather, and have a HAPPY EARTH DAY.