make/do: for earth day.

April 18, 2018

Becoming a parent has made me realize just how much of young childhood is centered around the seasons and celebrating them. (Thank goodness.) Of course, celebrating seasonal change was already very much my bag, but having a pre-schooler in my midst makes the celebrations all the more festive.

Holidays like Earth Day, which might come and go without much fanfare for many adults, loom large for little kids. And while it’s not a gift giving holiday in the traditional sense, as the day approaches I thought it might be nice to gather a few ideas for marking the occasion with little ones. Because while I won’t fault anyone for celebrating with some worm-shaped gummies tucked into a bed of Oreo soil, I think even little kids can handle a slightly more activist approach to the holiday, and a few ideas for how to hone Earth friendly habits early.

Here are a few things to make or do to celebrate Earth Day, and especially to foster a love of the planet—and a motivation for protecting it—for the littlest among us.

Watering can: Tending to their own precious charges can be a great foray into the world of environmental stewardship. Planting seeds, or tending to houseplants, and taking responsibility for keeping them alive is a lovely excellent place to start. Consider an Earth Day potting party. (Special equipment not required, but for seed starts and other plants that might need a more gentle touch than a toddler with a cup is able to offer, we’ve found the spray nozzle on this can to be helpful.)

Plant identification: There’s nothing like curious kids to urge us all to be better naturalists. Faye loves pointing out trees in our neighborhood, and stumping me with questions I don’t know the answer to. We’ve been reading this book on repeat in our house, which is beautiful and lyrical and has Faye constantly pointing out the seeds in our midst.

Nature table: Country-living folks often bemoan the dearth of nature available to city kids, but I assure you that not a day goes by when my city kids don’t find bits of nature to bring back home. Whether you’ve got country or city mice in your midst, making them a dedicated spot to display Earthly treasures has the two-pronged advantage of encouraging a love of the natural world and wrangling all of the nature-y bits and pieces that filter into homes occupied by small children. Don’t have an available table? Windowsills, bookshelves, or an empty wall and a bit of tape all work, too. (I’ve been considering this shelf for Faye’s growing collection.)

Flower press: Tiny, early spring flowers are some of the best for pressing and small children are experts at picking flowers with nary a stem left in sight. Press them instead and then use them to decorate cards or tape to walls or (A press similar to ours seen here is a lovely thing to have, but a solid stack of old books and some sheets of paper work, too.)

Stainless straws: I’m not sure I’ve ever met a kid who didn’t like a straw. Let Earth Day be the catalyst for curbing your straw habit and invest in a few stainless steel straws instead. To help solve the dining-out straw dilemma, we’ve started bringing our own along with us when we eat out of the house. (If you want to get a little fancy, you can even use a special sleeve to tote yours.)

Napkin rings: If you don’t already use cloth napkins with your little guys, make this the month to embrace the habit. (I promise it will make things easier, not harder.) For our part, we’re thinking about introducing napkin rings to cut back even more on unnecessary laundry.

Recycling duty: Get your little guys on board with recycling by engaging them in the process. Sure, it’s a little gross to have a four-year-old maul the trash cans, but then, their finger was just up their nose anyway. If there’s one thing little ones need to do frequently, it’s wash their hands, so embrace the dirt and get your kid involved. In our house, we carry our basket of recyclables downstairs with Faye and she helps us sort them into the appropriate bins. Giving kids a sense of partnership in family chores isn’t just helpful, it’ll ingrain good recycling habits from an early age.

Trash pick-up: Joining a local park clean-up as a family is a really immediate way of lending people-power to help the Earth, but it also helps to paint a clear picture of human impact on the environment for kids. It only takes a moment for a kid to recognize that trash doesn’t have a good place to go. 

Picnic gear: Earth Day marks the beginning of picnic season, that time of year when we eat outside to take advantage of the planet’s splendor. Too bad picnics often also generate a whole lot of trash. This year commit to toting washable and reusable picnic supplies instead. A kid-sized backpack filled with cloth napkins and utensils will help lighten your load. (I always carry my spork with me and we have two of these sets. Next on our list, a family-sized growler so that we’re not needing to tote along four water bottles to every picnic.)

What about you guys? Any ways that you’re planning to celebrate Earth Day? What good environmental practices have you been embracing with kids lately?

Make/Do is a new series of guides on simple giving focused on things you can make and things you can do, to help someone else make do.

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  • Reply Judith April 18, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    I’ve used only cloth napkins for decades now. The best napkin holders I ever saw were made from small conch shells that were hole-y enough to slip a napkin through. These can be individualized with a marker writing the user’s initials or some other small symbol. Also seems like there would be multiple ways to make them with kids, using beads and elastic, for example.

  • Reply Roxanne April 18, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    This is such a great list, Erin! As always, thank you your thoughtfulness. Here’s another children’s book I love that follows the life of a determined woman who loved trees (true story!). It’s called Tree Lady:

  • Reply Jessica April 18, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    EARTH DAY POTTING PARTY (forehead slap).
    My twins turn 3 on April 21, so this year will be their first “real” (read, with friends) birthday party. What a genius idea this would have been! (And, I daresay, more cost effective than the petting zoo we rented for the backyard….)

    Perhaps a 4th birthday will see a plant potting party….

    (as a side note, they are each getting a flower press this year. I was worried at that, at 3, they might be too young, but you have me thinking maybe not!)

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      Ha! Next year! And as for the press, Faye was admittedly a little more interested in cutting the stems into teeny tiny pieces with her scissors than pressing the flowers, but no matter!

  • Reply Hannah April 18, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    I like having my napkins each in a slightly different pattern or color instead of napkin rings. That way, you don’t lose track of whose napkin is whose when the table gets cleared and people rotate seats. You just know which person has which colors! It works great for us and does save a lot of laundry. Just an idea – you may prefer the visual simplicity of matching napkins with napkin rings.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 18, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      Haha, you guessed it 😉

  • Reply Nia April 18, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Totally awesome post! How do napkin rings make for less laundry?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 18, 2018 at 2:34 pm

      Oh, just cause you know which kid slimed which napkin, so you’re less likely to toss the whole bunch in the wash!

      • Reply Erin April 18, 2018 at 9:08 pm

        I was wondering about this, too. So you each have your own, and the napkin can go back in the ring after the meal? That’s a good idea. I end up just washing ours any time we use them for one meal, which is really silly when they’re not really dirty.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 18, 2018 at 9:16 pm

          Yeah, you got it! We try not to wash them after each meal if it’s just the family, but sometimes you encounter a mysterious avocado smear…

  • Reply anne April 18, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Love this post so much!! Can’t wait to implement with my nephew.
    Thank you for all the awesome inspirations.

  • Reply Eva April 18, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    So lovely! I purchased a flower press for my nieces (from your holiday gift list), and I hope they put it to work as the flowers start blooming. I love planting and being outside, and know if I had children they would be right there in the dirt with me.

  • Reply Erin April 18, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    Have you guys tried Free Forest School? It started in Brooklyn, and hopefully there’s still a group there. You’d probably find so many like-minded folks there. I just started a group in our area outside of Chicago.

    Thanks for your steady stream of kid-focused ideas. So much to think about with my own little ones!

    • Reply Nora April 19, 2018 at 12:33 pm

      Chicagoan here! My 2 year old daughter attends the forest school in North Park Village with her dad. I would love to know about other, similar groups around. Please add a link if you have one! And good for you! Thanks!

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 19, 2018 at 1:58 pm

        Hey! Sounds awesome! We’ve done several seasons of Brooklyn Forest School, but not Free Forest School! Looks like the New York classes meet in Central Park. Here’s a general link:

  • Reply Erin April 18, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    My mother embroidered our various sets of cloth napkins (I actually probably did the embroidery!). Some sets had our names but some just had little embroidered dots with the number of dots corresponding to our birth. Even simpler than napkin rings!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 19, 2018 at 6:22 am

      Oh! Of course! Love this idea.

  • Reply Erin April 18, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    *corresponding to our birth order I mean!

  • Reply Didiey April 19, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Happy Earth Day! Thanks for your jostle(much needed), I just placed an order for Stainless Steel Straws.

  • Reply Kizzy April 19, 2018 at 1:20 am

    Some fantastic ideas here. I need to look into what we can do near us. Thank you for sharing some great things to do with the kids to celebrate.

  • Reply Abby April 19, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    Love these ideas. You’ve inspired me to get out the flower press I borrowed/stole from my mom’s old teaching supplies and save the flowers my daughter’s so intent on picking whenever we go outside.

    We have a whole basket of cloth napkins for meals, living right next to the table. We mostly use them as wipes for our daughter’s hands/mouth/entirety after each meal, and to clean up all her corresponding spills. (They also double as handkerchiefs for permanently drippy noses.) We hung an antique 3-arm drying rack next to the sink to let them dry out in between laundry sessions. It’s been so easy and so much more environmentally friendly than paper towels.

  • Reply Frances April 20, 2018 at 3:49 am

    I teach Grade 3 in Melbourne, Australia, and my nature table has become quite a fixture of my classroom. Growing up in the country, I took my proximity to the natural world for granted. I was so surprised when I learned that my students hadn’t even held a birds nest before. I have enlisted my parents (who still live in my hometown) to collect bits and bobs they find around the place – wombat & kangaroo poo, a brown snakeskin, feathers, various birds nests and feathers, and most recently, a giant paper-wasp nest. My uncle even loaned me a bat (dried out, never fear). I suppose some might find all of this a bit gross, but I love sparking the students’ curiosity about the natural world. They love contributing to the table as well, with the little feathers and things they find around the place.

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