Spring is arriving here in the Northland, despite the blasts of snow we had last week.
Our yard hosted a large flock of robins one day — we counted almost 30 hopping about and feasting on their journey north.
And hopeful pink peony tips are poking their noses above the soil, ready to shoot up with the warming weather.
It’s a grand week to celebrate the splendor of Earth,
to slow down and appreciate its beauty,
to reflect with gratitude on its life-giving and soul-healing capacities,
to humbly recognize and learn more about the critical interplay among all of its systems and inhabitants.
In other words, it’s a grand week to take part in the 50th anniversary celebration of Earth Day!
Today I’ve got a juicy list of ideas and resources for how to do that for ages preschool through adult.
I am really excited by the good stuff I’ve found!
Cool nature study tools, art projects, citizen science opportunities, excellent Earth Day teach-ins, and more.
Even if you’ve never acknowledged or celebrated Earth Day before, 2020 is the perfect year to do so,
in part because your kids are schooling at home giving many of you more agency to direct their learning,
in part because now more than ever we know that restoring and protecting the Earth is a vital act of love for humanity,
in part because corona restrictions mean that fabulous learning opportunities are available remotely this year.
Restoring the health of the planet is critical for the well-being of humanity, and the time-frame for doing that is ASAP.
We can no longer shrug climate change off as “not my thing.”
If we are committed to love, we must be committed to the mitigation of damage, no matter our political party, our faith community, or the privilege that allows us to be thus far less impacted by current climate change realities.
We are all in this together.
Please join me in using this week to both appreciate our precious Earth and educate ourselves as to how we can be good stewards of it.
Here are some suggestions by age group:
For very young children, ages 7 and down:
the best practice is to immerse children in the delights of Nature,
to help them fall in love with the great out-of-doors.
1. Get outside for copious, unstructured play. This probably means that if you are lucky enough to have a yard, you don’t demand it be pristine. Let kids dig in the dirt, make a mud pie kitchen, build outdoor reading forts, rig up a clothes line for some dolly laundry or a car wash for the scooters and toy trucks. Invite mud and mess, grubbing and puddle-stomping, into your world.
2. Have a picnic. You might try something new — a picnic breakfast? a starlight picnic? picnic in a fort? in a tree?
3. Go on a nature scavenger hunt together. This is a fabulous way to heighten observational skills. Here are a few ideas for building your scavenging list:
three different birds, two different flowers, a yellow flower, two plants with leaf buds, something rough, something smooth, a squirrel, three different trees, something that fits in your pocket, something pretty, a tree so big you can’t wrap your arms around it, a pebble you like, a sign of spring, a bird’s nest, a flying insect, an insect hiding under a log or some leaves, a spiderweb, moss, something surprising, an acorn, a plant that’s prickly, a leaf with holes in it…
4. For older children, try a nature sound hunt:
Listen for two different bird calls, a bird song you can imitate, the sound of the wind, something that sounds hollow when you rap on it, the tiny sound of an insect, what the earth sounds like when you press your ear to the ground, what a tree sounds like when you press your ear to a tree trunk, the sound of something scampering, something that makes a snapping or cracking sound, something that makes a sloshy, wet sound, the sound of your feet when you stomp on two different surfaces…
5. Collect sticks. Sticks are always a good idea.
6. Go on a walk. Maybe a walk at an unusual time of day — after dark, at sunset, before breakfast, while you munch lunch…
7. Pitch your tent in the yard and have a camp-out.
8. Make earth-pigment paintings: Collect things from outdoors — flower petals, green leaves, old or new berries, different kinds of soil, grasses, bark, stems, seeds… Use them to “paint” with by smearing, streaking, rubbing, pounding, mushing onto paper. Which things have pigments in them? Are there any fruits or vegetables around your kitchen that you want to try now?
9. Purchase a butterfly garden. Now is a great time to do this as it will be warm enough to release them once the butterflies emerge.
Looking for more ideas for the very young? Try these books and others I’ve reviewed in an earlier blog post.
This age group needs to keep playing outdoors, grow in nature knowledge, and learn to become an advocate for the Earth.
1. As children grow older, it is easy for all their outdoor activity to become structured — sports teams, summer rec programs, etc. With these activities canceled for the most part, this is the perfect time to soak up unstructured time out of doors, even if you can’t enter local state parks. Simply walking, biking, rollerblading, or reading outside, planting a tiny garden or some potted herbs, eating outdoors, are great ways to keep connected with nature.
2. Learn to identify local birds: Many people are noticing bird song more these days due to decreased traffic noise. I researched the best apps for helping to learn birds by sound and sight and discovered this iBird Pro Guide and this free Audubon Bird Guide were most frequently rated in the top two.
3. Learn to identify the trees in your yard or neighborhood. Knowing the names of the wild things around us is one of the key factors in really seeing and caring about them. The app What Tree is That is a great, inexpensive tool for this.
4. Make a bug hotel. Biodiversity is good for the world, and bug hotels help attract beneficial insects to your yard. Read about them here and construct one for your own yard.
5. Begin a nature journal. This is a great activity for a lifetime. One of the best sites I have found for ideas on making nature journals a happy, interesting activity for children is located here.
6. Create nature art by making natural suncatchers, following the directions here. They were the simplest I could find, using materials you are likely to have at home.
7. Try your hand at land form art. Andy Goldsworthy is perhaps the artist best known for pursuing this intriguing art form. Read about his art here as well as examples of the kinds of land form art children have made. An interview with British land form artist Richard Shilling, also showcases some beautiful examples for your inspiration.
8. Make awesome Earth Day window paintings or signs for your front door or front yard. One of the best things we can do to help get people on board for the climate action we need is…just talk about it! Tell the world what you love about a healthy planet!
9. Join a City Nature Challenge in your area. This marks the 5th year that these City Nature Challenges have been run. In the past it has been an international competition; this year due to the corona restrictions, the goal is simply a global collaborative effort. Find wild life in your city — plants or animals — then document and share them through the iNaturalist app. In 2019, more than 35,000 people in 159 cities around the world took part, and together they documented 31,000 species including 1,100 that are rare, endangered, or threatened. So cool!
10. NASA has a large variety of activities to choose from for Earth Day, including LEGO challenges, opportunities to help map coral reefs from your home, a NASA science teaching episode on April 22, podcasts, videos from the International Space Station, and more.
Ages 13 and up:
All of us in this age group need to keep enjoying the outdoors as we are able, and to become informed, active protectors of the environment.
1. Encourage your kids to get outdoors either for exercise, recreation, or sheer enjoyment, by modeling and accommodating it. Maybe you and your kids could make plans for a true wilderness experience to celebrate the re-opening of parks at some point in our future.
2. Learn from one of the top experts and communicators on Climate Change, Katharine Hayhoe, via her Global Weirding channel on Youtube. There are many excellent episodes here!! This should be on every homeschooler’s agenda.
3. Soak up knowledge via webinars happening during Earth Week. This is a golden opportunity for teens and adults to access these high caliber speakers when school is not in session! Two excellent choices are the Earth Optimism Summit 2020 happening April 22-26, and Project Drawdown 101 – An Introduction to the Science of Climate Solutions on April 22.
4. Find out how you can act on climate no matter your political leanings via the short film and excellent information available from the non-partisan Outrider Foundation.
5. Join the world’s largest citizen science data collection effort, Earth Challenge 2020, whose goal is to engage millions of global citizens and integrate billions of data points in support of new and ongoing citizen science projects. Currently data is being collected in the areas of air quality and plastic pollution.
6. Watch the new PBS film, Climate Change: The Facts, premiering on April 22, 7 p.m. Central Time.
7. Explore the Exploratorium, a fantastic site for learning about climate change’s impacts on the atmosphere, oceans and water, ice, land and living systems.
8. Ramble around the Earth Day website — though I am warning you, there is a waterfall of information at this site so I suggest this only for those who are already motivated to learn and who enjoy exploring a jam-packed website. Specific pages you might check out: For a state of the earth report; for information on biodiversity including planting pollinator gardens; to learn about how the food you eat impacts the planet;
9. Some local efforts will still be underway so check out what’s happening in your area. In Minneapolis, for example, Earth Day Cleanup is still happening. It’s a great way to get outdoors and be a good neighbor.
10. A vast number of people in this age demographic experience considerable anxiety over the environmental issues their generation will certainly face. I don’t know much about this organization, but perhaps its webinars on mental health in conjunction with climate change would be of help to you or someone you know. Takes place April 21.
[top image: Owl in Flight by Mark Hearld]