Earth Day Ideas

Hedda SharapanEarth Day is April 22, and I've been thinking about ways to talk with children about caring for the environment. That can be a real challenge because concepts like conservation, recycling and scarcity can be hard to explain. Young children take our resources for granted, and that’s understandable. They see that we turn on a switch, and the light comes on. They turn on a faucet, and the water flows. Besides that, young children live in the present. The future is too many “tomorrows” away. 

Fred Rogers cared deeply about conservation and taking good care of our planet. He created a whole week of Neighborhood episodes about the environment. But he didn’t want to make young children feel responsible for solving our environmental problems or worry about the future of our planet. He believed strongly that children need to trust that we adults are doing all we can to care for our world.

On the other hand, Fred also knew that there are things young children can do, and that there are ways we can help them grow to be caring stewards of our world. Here’s one example of the many ways he encouraged children to appreciate things in the world around us.

Here are other ideas I’ve learned from Fred and from teachers I’ve met over the years:

Teach by our example. When we turn off lights, when we turn over paper to use the back of it and when we gather newspapers for recycling, we’re sending clear messages to children that caring for our environment is important to us. They’ll take in those messages because children want to be like the important adults in their lives. Like the Quaker saying that Fred often quoted -- “Attitudes are caught, not taught.”

Find new uses for throw-aways. Offer throw-aways like boxes, tubes and trays, and ask the children how they might use them. They might want to use a cardboard box as a garage for toy cars or as a pretend airplane. They might want to make collages from greeting cards, sculptures from bits of throw-aways or doll beds from styrofoam trays. When we help children find new ways to use throw-aways, they’re getting important ideas about resourcefulness, creativity, and recycling. 

Create opportunities to appreciate nature. Take a walk and talk about the things that capture the children’s attention. Point out things that you notice, too, like dandelions or even interesting weeds. Give children bags for collecting things like fallen blossoms, twigs or stones and seeds. You can also help them connect the bags to make a “Nature Collage Quilt.”

Look for appropriate ways to conserve. When you’re naming daily “helpers,” include a position of a “light leader.” That child turns off the lights when everyone leaves the room. When the children are brushing teeth, encourage them to turn off the water while they’re brushing. When it’s appropriate, suggest that they use both sides of a piece of paper. 

Of course Fred always reminded us that it’s our continual care for the children that helps them care about what’s important to us. We help them develop a sense of belonging to our planet when we help them know that they belong in our lives– that they are loved, lovable, and capable of loving. They’ll grow up finding it natural in their own "tomorrows" to turn off the lights and use the backs of the papers.

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