12 - 48 Months

8 ways to celebrate Earth Day as a family

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Earth Day is a time to celebrate nature and the environment. Everyone—babies and toddlers included—can learn about taking care of the Earth and its resources, and appreciate the beauty of nature.

Here’s how to get young children involved in celebrating Earth Day:

Activities for 0-12 month-olds

Visit a botanical garden 

For babies, simply being outside carries a wide range of benefits. If you live near a botanical garden, a walk with your baby (in a stroller or carrier) gives them a chance to see, smell, and hear things they may not have access to in their daily life.

If you don’t live close to a public garden, try a city park or even a walk around your neighborhood. The stimulation your baby gets by being outside—in a forest or even an urban area—helps build connections in their brain.

Experiment with natural finger paints

Babies love sensory play, and research shows it’s great for their cognitive and physical development. Engaging the senses feels good to your baby, and can smell and taste good, too. This kind of play also helps your baby learn how to be more comfortable with getting messy

For Earth Day, you can take advantage of the colors and textures of the natural world to make baby-safe, non-toxic finger paint. Using natural ingredients means your baby will be safe if some paint ends up in their mouth, even if they’re not happy about it 🙃

Here’s a baby-safe finger paint recipe to try with your baby:

  • Mix ¼ cup plain yogurt (non-dairy yogurts work well too) with 1 tbsp powder for each color:
    • Turmeric for yellow paint
    • Beet powder for blue paint
    • Spirulina for green paint
  • Be sure to cover all work surfaces, as these paints can stain. Give your child a large surface to work on, and watch them closely as they paint. Encourage them to mix colors together to see what happens.
  • Store leftover paint in tightly-capped jars for as long as the yogurt stays fresh.

Activities for 1-year-olds to 2-year-olds

Young child placing a can in a recycling bin.

Sort trash together 

Depending on where you live, your city may encourage you to separate waste into trash, recycling, and even compost. If you don’t have a local composting program, you can compost pretty easily at home; here are some basic guidelines and how-tos from the EPA.

Separating waste into the correct bins can be tricky, but toddlers love to sort and categorize. Consider keeping a dedicated drawer or container for reusable items, like empty paper towel rolls, cardboard, milk jugs, and other items. These can be reused for all kinds of craft projects.

Some tips and general rules of thumb for separating waste into the right bins:

  • Put photos of common items on each bin for a visual guide.
  • Anything crinkly (think plastic wrappers) usually goes in the trash; you can consider labeling this bin “landfill” to help teach your toddler where garbage ends up.
  • Use the “poke test” to see if plastic is recyclable. Many plastics are, but anything you can poke a finger through easily is not sturdy enough to be recycled.
  • Aluminum foil can be recycled, but before you do, try to reuse it several times yourself (keep it carefully folded).
  • Don’t recycle anything smaller than a credit card—these items jam the machines that sort recycling.
  • More tips here from earthday.org.

Learn more about environmental lessons for your toddler

Make a DIY birdfeeder

Bird watching is a favorite nature activity for young children, and you can make simple, inexpensive bird feeders at home. A reference book, like the Sibley Guide to Birds, can be fun to keep handy once you’ve hung up your feeder.

Here’s how to make a simple bird feeder at home:

  • Find a pine cone and tie a string to one end of it.
  • With your toddler’s help, slather it all over with peanut butter (or sunflower butter).
  • Give your toddler a small bowl or bin of birdseed, and invite them to roll the pinecone around until it’s completely coated.
  • Hang the bird feeder up somewhere you can watch it through a window.

If you don’t have access to pine cones, you can also use a stale bagel.

Activities for 2-year-olds to 3-year-olds

Make a nature collage

Go on a walk with your child and invite them to search for natural objects like pine cones, sticks, leaves, flowers, and small pebbles. Collect them in a basket and when you return home, make a collage. You will need:

  • A large piece of paper or cardboard—this is a great way to reuse scratch paper or cardboard from a package.
  • A small glue pot and a paintbrush. Water the glue down a little bit for this activity.
  • Bowls to separate out different kinds of materials, if you have many of each. This makes for a great sorting activity: petals in one bowl, leaves in another, pebbles in a third, and so on.

Once your child is done, let it dry and display it ❤️

Make seed balls

Seed balls are also known as seed bombs because people used to throw them into empty lots and parks to grow wildflowers and native plants. They’re a fun way to teach your child about how these kinds of plants and flowers grow, and can be made at home with just a few ingredients. Plus, they’re messy to make and fun for your child to throw 😉

To make them, you’ll need:

  • 5 parts air-dry clay
  • 2 parts soil
  • 2 parts water
  • 2 parts seeds
  • A large container

You can visit your local plant nursery and ask which seeds are native to your area—consider involving your child in the choice of which ones to plant. Mix all of your ingredients together (it’s messy 🙃). Once your mixture is smooth and consistent, it’s time to form the balls. You may need to add a little extra soil or water to the mixture to get it just right. The seed balls should be around the size of golf balls—maybe a little smaller.

Set them out on a tray to dry. This takes a few hours, and you may want to save part two for the next day. Once the seed balls are dry, you and your child can toss them wherever you want the plants to grow. The area where you throw them doesn’t need much soil, and their clay shells form natural protection from sunlight and rodents. They should start sprouting within a week or so, depending on light and water conditions.

Learn more about sensory activities for this age.

Activities for 3-year-olds and up

Go on a nature scavenger hunt

A scavenger hunt in a park or nature area—or even just a walk around the block—gives your child a chance to tune into the natural world around them. If you design your own scavenger hunt, include items that will be easy to spot, plus a couple of challenges.

Common items include animals, flowers, trees, animal tracks, interesting rocks, puddles, something edible, leaves, mushrooms, spider webs, and clouds. You can adjust your list for the region you live in, as well as the season.

For a more sensory scavenger hunt, you can find a free printable here; this list focuses more on action than spotting items. 

Pick up litter

Picking up paper, cans, and bottles on a walk is surprisingly fun for young children, especially if you’re prepared. Choosing a local park, beach, or hiking trail to clean up gives your child the joy and satisfaction of restoring a beautiful place. You can also use a cleanup as an opportunity to teach your child about why littering harms the environment.

Here’s how to prepare:

  • Bring heavy-duty gloves and a garbage bag.
  • Use a stick to pick up things you or your child really don’t want to touch (even with gloves).
  • Be mindful of sharp objects, and help your child identify trash that should only be handled by an adult (or left on the ground).
  • If you have more than one child along with you, turn it into a friendly competition: who can spot (and pick up) the most trash?
  • Take some before-and-after photos to show your child the difference they can make in a short period of time.

Earth Day reading list:

  • Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger | Simple lyrical text about nature and an homage to the color green.
  • My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan & Francesca Sanna | A sweet book about how the Earth is our friend and how we can be friends with it, too.
  • Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson | An interactive board book about changing seasons.
  • Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal | A beautiful exploration of what’s above and below the dirt.
  • Amara’s Farm by JaNay Brown-Wood & Samara Hardy | A little girl searches for pumpkins on her farm while comparing and contrasting.
  • Kate Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon & Lee White | The story of Kate, a little girl who helps her older neighbor plant trees around his house to “tame” the wind.
  • Outside In by Deborah Underwood & Cindy Derby | A book about how we interact with nature, even when we’re indoors.
  • We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom & Michaela Goade | A story of water conservation from a Native American perspective.
  • One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul & Elizabeth Zunon | The true story of Isatou Ceesay and how she revolutionized recycling in Gambia.
  • Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers | A celebration of Earth, from the perspective of our place in the universe.
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown | A boy turns a cityscape into a garden and inspires an entire city.
  • One Earth by Eileen Spinelli & Rogério Coelho | An environmentalist counting book.
  • Hike by Pete Oswald | A (nearly) wordless story about a boy and his father on a hike.
  • 10 Things I can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh | A list of ways children can help care for the planet.

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Posted in: 12 - 48 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, 0 - 12 Months, Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Nature, holidays, Child Development

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