Our planet is an amazing and wonderous place that provides us with a seemingly endless supply of food, shelter, recreation, and so much more. But it is also a fragile environment, one that needs care and attention to sustain its beauty and utility.
For nearly 50 years, Earth Day has been celebrated by millions of people all around the world on April 22. But Earth Day means more than just planting a tree, although that’s a good start! Here are some interesting facts about Earth Day:
- Earth Day was founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970.
- 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day.
- More than 100 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered in the United States each year.
- The U.S. buried or burned more than 166 million tons of resources – paper, plastic, metals, glass and organic materials – in landfills and incinerators last year.
- It only takes about 6 weeks total to manufacture, fill, sell, recycle, and then remanufacture an aluminum beverage can.
- Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are now gone.
- More than 2 million people globally die prematurely every year due to outdoor and indoor air pollution.
- Every year in the U.S. nearly 200 billion beverage containers are sold, two-thirds of which are landfilled, incinerated or littered.
- Recycling, reuse and remanufacturing account for 3.1 million jobs in the U.S.
- Recycling saves 3 to 5 times the energy that waste incinerator power plants generate.
- By reducing our waste 1% per year and recycling and composting 90% of our discards by 2030, we could save 406 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. This is the equivalent to shutting down 21% of our nation’s coal-fired power plants.
- More than 76% of cardboard boxes and 72% of newspaper were recycled in 2006 but less than 50% of printing and writing paper was recycled.
There are lots of great activities to get involved with to honor Earth Day. But what about the other 364 days of the year? There are so many simple things we can do every day to support our Mother Earth and help all creatures survive and thrive!
Many teachers are familiar with the 3 R’s of Education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Well, “R” seems to be a popular letter! Let’s explore the 3 R’s of the Environment: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
With a little thought, we can reduce a lot of waste. Try these simple but effective suggestions as a way to get started:
- Try reusable containers for lunch and snacks instead of disposable bags
- Bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store
- Turn off lights when you don’t need them
- Don’t leave the water running when brushing your teeth
Brainstorm new ideas with your children about how to reduce waste. Who knows, they may have the next revolutionary idea!
Think about all the materials we throw away with that could still be of use in another capacity or to someone else. Be creative and see if you can come up with some new opportunities to reuse products. Here are some practical ideas to consider:
- Donate clothes you no longer wear to your favorite charity or to others who will use them
- Repair broken items instead of immediately replacing
- Buy used items, especially for things you’ll outgrow quickly, like sports gear
- Consider a "community bin" of used items such as clothes or shoes to share among your families as they need
- Use both sides of paper and save scrap paper for crafts or notes
What other things can you do to reuse items? Have a contest among your families to find the most creative use of reused products!
Many communities have recycling programs available. Learn about the types of materials accepted and recycle as many products as you can. And, equally as important, purchase recycled products to keep the cycle going.
- Many others
Watch this video about how to teach children to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Activities for Your Program
Kids love to get dirty and play with new materials. Have some fun with activities that help kids learn about how things grow, what they are made of, and what happens when we dispose of items. Here are some ideas to promote environmental awareness in your lesson plans:
- Create a garden at your center. If you have the space, start a compost bin and have the kids use the compost material to work into the soil. Kids will learn how plants grow and how we can turn our waste into food for the plants!
- Take clean, safe materials that are to be tossed out and have the children make creative art projects with them.
- Use a carbon footprint calculator to determine your impact on the environment. Try making changes for one week to see how much carbon it reduces.
- See how many things each child can “reduce” in a week. Have them track their use of reusable containers, when they turned the lights off when they weren’t in use, etc. Discuss what that saved by reducing those materials.
- Have the children decorate a reusable tote bag for their families to use at the grocery store.
- Look at the material that is disposed of each day. How much could be recycled? Find new places that will accept different materials for recycling.
- Collect broken crayons and stubs that the children no longer use. Try melting them together to create new crayons. See how many new crayons you can make with ones that would otherwise be thrown away. You could even create a new color!
Here are 8 Ways Kids Can Help the Environment
Being environmentally responsible isn’t as difficult or time-consuming as it may seem. Any of us can contribute to the health of our planet every day and in so many ways.
Teaching kids at a young age to respect our environment will help them grow into good stewards of the planet. If we all work together, we can ensure that generations to come can all enjoy a beautiful and healthy world! Remember, think globally, act locally!
Here are some additional resources to help you explore more about environmental awareness: