Earth Day has a special place in my heart. It’s partially because the day went international while I was in college, so I have great associations with celebrating what felt like a brand-new holiday on big university lawns while listening to benefit concerts and acting like hippies. But beyond that, I associate the holiday with my sweet grandmother, no longer living, who shares her birthday with Earth Day. Mary was far from being a hippie but ultimately she embodied many of the qualities it takes to be truly mindful of the environment. She was an accidental environmentalist. As straight-laced minister’s wife, she would never have spoken of “Mother Earth” in such flowery terms, but she really was the most industrious recycler I have ever met. She also wasted not and wanted not. Her refrigerator was sparse, keeping only the food on hand needed for any given week. And those foods were REAL—she didn’t need any guiding words by Michael Pollan about eating only foods your grandmother would recognize. That was all there was. She hung her laundry out to dry, saved every scrap of fabric, made my poor mother wear her brother’s clothing, and was militant about turning out the lights. She even carried an organ donor card long before most people even knew they existed to clarify that her entire body be donated to science lest she be involved in a fatal accident. She was the ultimate, consummate recycler!
This April 22nd, take some time to reflect on your history. Think about how your grandparents and great grandparents lived with less, kept their lives simpler, and were more environmentally friendly before such a concept even existed. Then think about some ways you can celebrate this Earth Day with a clear focus on the true meaning of the occasion. Here are the five Earth-friendly projects I plan to do with my kids.
1. Sign an Environmental Commitment Oath
Work with your children to come up with at least one environmentally friendly act that you can carry out each and every day. Use the printable template from Primary Practice to put it in writing, then sign it together with your child out of solidarity. Post it somewhere prominent—in a frame in the bathroom or taped to the fridge—that you’ll see it every day. Consider creating your own vow, like finally composting food scraps or always bringing a reusable vessel with you for coffee and water. Have your child sign your oath along with you—just as you did hers—and keep each other honest.
2. Go On a Trash-to-Treasure Hunt
Hold a scavenger hunt with the intent to teach kids about the virtues of making use of something that’s been discarded. Create a list of “treasure” to find with checkboxes next to each one. Arm kids with clipboards and gloves and send them off to find the goods. If you have little kids, you might simply pull some clean bottles and boxes out of your recycling bin and hide them in shrubs around your yard. Plan a craft project—like Katherine Marie’s robot made from recycled tins—with the items you hide. For teens, you can take the idea to a public space that needs to be cleaned up, then send them off to pick up garbage. The treasure in this case could be taking cans and bottles to the local recycling center and cashing them in for their deposit. In both cases you teach kids to pay attention to “waste” and the impact—both positive and negative—it can have on our lives.
3. Make an Upcycled Flower Garland
Perhaps your environmental commitment oath included finally limiting all the catalogs and junk mail you receive. I know that I’m always grateful when my recycle bin is parked on the curb right next to my mailbox and I can just transfer the massive stack of catalogs peddling overpriced crap I don’t need directly into it. But I can do better: I finally went to catalogchoice.org to opt out of unnecessary catalog junk mail. I mean, how many Pottery Barn catalogs can you really suffer through in any given year?! In the meantime, consider making something beautiful with all those colorful pages. I love the upcycled flower garland on Zakka Life, which I plan on making with my kids on Earth Day, then using as eco-friendly decoration for my son’s birthday in May.
4. Share Earth-Friendly Mini Muffins
Whip up a batch of healthy mini muffins for a great neighbor, teacher, friend, or relative, and gift them using the brilliant little craft project from Fiskars. Angela Daniels shows how to reuse an egg carton as a custom gift box for wholesome homemade muffins. All it takes is one great muffin recipe, a mini muffin tin, some scrapbook paper, and glue. The lucky recipient will be impressed by your industriousness and happy to be gifted a baked good that’s guilt-free.
5. Get the Earth to Glow
Sometimes I light a candle in my boys’ room at night. It’s a nice ritual that creates a peaceful mood—and it doubles as a natural monster-repellent. For Earth Day, I’m going to make this Earth votive holder with them. Just as lighting a candle inspires calm and thoughtfulness, our Planet Earth votive will be a nice way to encourage reflection on some of the simple messages they picked up on Earth Day. Twig and Toadstool gives step-by-step instructions for making a little blue planet of your own, then watching as it—and your child—lights up. My grandmother would approve.
Do you have a relative who was an “accidental environmentalist”? How does that person inspire you? Do you have craft projects planned for Earth Day? I’d love to hear about them!