Environmental Education, Featured, Science, STEM

Making Every Day Earth Day

Making Every Day Earth Day

Originally published April 2021

By TEACH Staff

For over 50 years, April 22 has been a day to support the protection of the environment. The first Earth Day was celebrated by the United States in 1970, and was so successful at raising awareness of environmental issues that it eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, amongst other environmental legislation. According to EARTHDAY.ORG, a non-profit which now coordinates the event, Earth Day is the largest non-religious observance in the world, with over 1 billion people taking action each year to protect the planet.

Over the past few years, the younger generation has risen up as a major player in the environmental movement, with youth-led climate strikes grabbing attention across the globe. At the beginning of April, learning community Brainly conducted an online survey to learn more about students’ opinions and habits pertaining to Earth Day and the environment. Over 2,000 middle and high school students in the U.S. were polled.

Our Planet, Our Future

Nearly 44% of students who responded to the survey said they predict that within 20 years, Earth’s environment will be worse than it is now, and 22% said that they think the environment will be entirely destroyed by then. Most notably, 46% of students said they are very worried about the state of the planet they will inherit and think it will take a lot of effort to save. Another 42% said they are somewhat worried, while only 12% of respondents said they think the earth is in good shape and they are not worried.

Terms like “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety” have become increasingly popular to describe how the climate crisis is impacting mental health. The American Psychological Association defines eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” How can students manage that anxiety, while constantly being subjected to the doom-and-gloom surrounding climate change?

“One way to deal with anxiety related to the unknown aspects of climate change is to learn as much as possible about it,” says Patrick Quinn, a former educator and current parenting expert at Brainly. This includes understanding what is at stake, courses of action, and how average people can make a difference. “Otherwise,” he says, “it can be easy to make false assumptions about worst-case scenarios while missing positive stories about activists pushing politicians and corporations to step up.”

Students can also practice reframing their negative thoughts as a way to relieve some of that stress and anxiety. “If thoughts of climate change keep creeping into your mind or even prevent you from making future plans,” says Quinn, “it may be helpful to focus your attention on the present moment while finding something positive about those circumstances. Students who develop this skill tend to cope better than those who find it difficult to regulate their thinking, actions, and emotions.”

Often the best way to find hope and positively re-frame the climate crisis is to focus on taking action. “Real, good, useful hope is profoundly linked with finding concrete ways to make a difference,” Quinn suggests.

We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands

In responding to Brainly’s Earth Day survey, over 70% of students said they believe that the government should be held accountable for ensuring we have a healthy environment, while 66% said that individuals must be held responsible as well.

“I was pleased that so many students said they think individuals can be responsible for making sure we have a healthy environment,” says Quinn. “While it’s true that governments and the private sector have the power to make the most radical changes, the average person can alter their habits in important ways too.”

And students are already making these changes. Of those who responded to the survey, over 60% said they consistently recycle, pick up trash, and turn their lights off in order to better the environment. Nearly 42% said they walk, bike, or carpool on a regular basis to reduce their carbon footprint, and 49% actively try to conserve water in their everyday lives. All of these small actions can add up to make a big impact.

Some other ways to take action include:

  • Eating less red meat, which can reduce carbon emissions;
  • Participating in protests and strikes to draw attention to the climate crisis, while also inspiring others to act;
  • Calling on elected officials at the local, state, or Congressional level to take action against climate change, making it harder for them to ignore the issue.

Celebrating Earth Day

“As parents and teachers,” Quinn says, “we have the opportunity to spark a passion in our kids that will drive them to do their part to take care of the earth they inherit.”

How can educators use Earth Day to spark that passion in their students? The best and most impactful way is to make Earth Day fun. There are countless ways to celebrate, whether at home or in the classroom. While Quinn encourages students to get creative and come up with their own ideas, he is also happy to recommend the following activities:

  • Online tours are one of the best virtual Earth Day ideas. Students can explore nature preserves, zoos, parks, forests, and other environmental wonders without leaving home. Some of these experiences are self-led, while others are guided by experts via Zoom.
  • Create a compost bin in the backyard. With a compost bin, organic waste (fruit peels, eggshells, grass clippings, food scraps, etc.) is converted into nutrient-rich soil instead of ending up in landfills. 
  • Make an eco-friendly bird feeder
  • Watch an Earth Day-themed movie. The Lorax, about a yellow-mustached creature fighting to save his environment, is a great pick for younger kids. An Inconvenient Truth and its sequel are perfect for older students. 
  • Students can calculate their family’s carbon footprint
  • Read a book about nature. The real-life animals of Curious Critters make for an interesting and fun read for kids of all ages, and Earth Day Every Day is a great book for introducing little ones to this green holiday.

Here are some other fun and helpful ways to celebrate Earth Day:

  1. Get outside. Going on a nature walk or having an outdoor scavenger hunt are great ways to enjoy some fresh air and while celebrating Earth Day.
  2. Play in the dirt. Start a class garden, or have students create their own garden at home, and talk about where food actually comes from. Be sure to select climate-appropriate plants or seeds—try searching for some at a local farmer’s market or plant shop.
  3. Plant a tree. For an activity that will stay with them for a lifetime, students and their families can plant a tree in their yard. Students can take pictures with it every Earth Day and watch it grow over the years. This is also a great opportunity for educating kids about how trees help combat climate change and deforestation.
  4. Try “earth painting.” Finger paint with mud on sidewalks or use non-toxic watercolors to paint river rocks. The water will wash the paint away.

Earth Day Every Day

While 44% of students said they’ll celebrate Earth Day this year, another 59% said they don’t plan to do anything special and instead try to treat every day like it’s Earth Day.

Quinn likes to compare Earth Day to Mother’s Day: “They’re similar in the sense that both deserve to be celebrated every day, not just once a year. Similar to how we sometimes take our moms for granted, it’s easy to take our planet for granted and assume that it’ll always be there; however, that’s not necessarily the case.”

What are some daily activities students can do to make a difference?

  • Switch to reusable bags and reusable water bottles, instead of single-use plastics that end up in landfills;
  • Save water by taking shorter showers (try shortening them by five minutes at first) and turning the tap off when washing their face or brushing their teeth;
  • Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs—they’re more eco-friendly, using about 75% less energy than incandescent ones.

Just by making these small changes, student can have a big impact!

“We all live on the same planet and have an equal duty to protect and preserve the environment,” says Quinn. Earth Day can be a great starting point to introduce students to the issue of climate change. As a universal holiday that transcends borders, cultures, religions and lifestyles, Quinn says, Earth Day “gives us a shared cause and common ground.” Devoting a portion of time during the school day to focus on the environment reminds students how important nature is. Let’s show them that the Earth deserves attention.