We have an opportunity and responsibility each year on April 22 to create environmental problem solvers, just like those who worked with Senator Gaylord Nelson, in 1970, to create the first Earth Day. It began as a movement to protect our planet, and now scientists all over the world use this day to teach the public about our planet's needs and what we can each do to promote sustainability.
This year, empower your students and teach them how to improve our environment with these four Earth Day activities.
1. Plant a Garden Inside or Outside
Our planet is unique for its plants, the first of which appeared 475 million years ago—so let's get our students to plant a few. If you have limited space and budget, you could simply sprout an avocado tree from an avocado pit. Amazingly, my avocado tree from 2017 is nearly five-feet tall now!
If you have a larger area to work with, consider building a planter box that can hold a variety of species that are native to your location. You can ask a parent or colleague to help you assemble it. If a patch of land is available on your school grounds, students can dig in and grow flowering plants—milkweed attracts monarch butterflies!—or vegetables. You can even certify your schoolyard garden as a wildlife habitat.
2. Conduct a Trash Audit
Trash is a large burden for our planet, and doing a classroom "trash audit"—though a bit messy—can be very powerful. For this activity, have your students wear aprons and gloves. Sort two plastic bags of trash into three buckets: One for the landfill, one for recyclables, and one for compostables. Then weigh each category with a spring scale. (Pro tip: You can use these numbers for future math problems!)
Further reading: 5 Simple Tips for Going Green
Once the activity is complete, have your students report their findings to other classes and make posters to educate the school on what should be thrown out, recycled, and composted. If your school doesn't have compostable bins, contact your local waste management company. If they're not available, start a compost pile at your school. Students can add their fruit and vegetable scraps, and your classes can take turns maintaining it. Even better, that rich soil can then be used for your certified wildlife habitat.
3. Pass on Plastics
One of the scarier human impacts on our planet is the abundance of plastics and microplastics (less than one millimeter) in our oceans and bays. You can build a lesson plan about this environmental issue by challenging your class to come up with ways to reduce the use of plastic at your school. For instance, your students could pledge to use reusable water bottles. If your school doesn't have a water dispenser, start a fundraiser and ask parents to pitch in to purchase one.
You can also plan a field trip for a coastal, bay, river, or creek clean-up day. This type of activity gives your students power to make a difference—not just on Earth Day, but every day. They'll make a change for the better and help reverse some of the damage to our planet.
Further reading: A Teacher's Guide to Spring Cleaning
4. Share Inspirational Stories
Inspire your students by sharing and discussing companies or people who have made a difference. You could go with local examples or share the stories of these two companies: San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee designed compostable OneCups, so instead of adding massive amounts of near-permanent waste to our planet every day, these plant-based, renewable coffee cups are biodegradable and help sustain a healthy planet. Another company, Back to the Roots, was founded by two college students who learned how to grow mushrooms from recycled coffee grounds. After some research and experimentation, they continue to heal the planet as their business grows.
Knowledge is power—and with power, there's hope. Use these Earth Day activities to give your students the knowledge to understand that their impact on the planet can create a brighter future.