Earth Day is April 22nd, and it’s a great time to start teaching kids how to take care of the environment! While preschoolers may be too young to fully understand the importance of maintaining a healthy planet, there are a few habits you can instill in them now to shape their views on nature and conservation as they get older.
Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
As soon as they are tall enough, kids LOVE to flip light switches! Teaching them to turn off lights when they are done in a room is a great way to get in the habit of saving energy (and also $$$). Before you know it, they will be following you around and scolding you when you forget!
Take an active part in recycling.
Helping to clean and sort recyclable materials is an easy household chore for young preschoolers. My 3-yr-old loves to rinse out bottles and carry the recycling out to the bin. When kids start recycling at a young age, it will become second-nature to them as they get older! And recycling is important to reducing the amount of garbage that we need to dispose of in landfills (which take up lots and lots of space) or incinerators (which are bad for the air).
Hug a tree.
I know it sounds hippy-dippy! But healthy trees are essential to our atmosphere because they clear carbon dioxide (a major Greenhouse Gas) out of the air and replace it with oxygen. Most kids naturally love trees, and hugging them is a great way to get up close and personal! When you are walking on a trail or playing in a park, encourage your little ones to investigate the trees… compare the bark on different trees, look for moss or lichen (the greenish silver stuff on the bark…it’s actually a living thing!), and point out the animals and insects that use the tree as their home.
Catch and release.
Let them catch worms, frogs, minnows and bugs (the non-stinging, non-biting ones, of course!). Look at them (carefully! No squishing! Those tiny hands are always surprisingly strong). Examine their parts. And then let them go. Teach kids to appreciate that these creatures should stay in their natural environment. All living things have a job that is important to the earth! Go to the library and check out some books to learn more about the amazing living things you found!
Get dirty in the garden.
Planting and caring for a garden can help kids understand how earth, water and air (carbon dioxide, specifically) are essential for plant growth. Plus, giving your toddler the responsibility of watering the garden or pulling weeds will help them feel some ownership over the garden (and hopefully make them less likely to pull out your garden plants!). For some great ideas about skill development, check out 10 Things to Teach Your Toddler While Gardening. And if you don’t have room for a garden at home, you can make a tabletop one in a Soda Bottle Terrarium!