Activities and advice for enjoying nature with your kids
April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of the largest organized civic action in U.S. history: Earth Day. In 1970, 20 million Americans participated, helping pave the way for watershed legislation such as the Clean Air Act as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since Earth Day went global in 1990, 190 countries and more than a billion people have joined in.
This year continues 2009’s campaign, The Green Generation, to rally for advances in climate change policy, renewable energy, and green jobs. Here are a few ways your family can participate. For details, check out the Earth Day Network.
• Get informed Watch Earth Days, a history of the revolutionary eco-activism that led to the first Earth Day
• Volunteer Earth Day Network’s A Billion Acts of Green program encourages individuals and groups to get involved in environmental stewardship and register their activities on its website. Help your kids plant a tree or switch to efficient light bulbs. A major series of service projects, such as river cleanups and tree plantings, will take place April 17–18, so look for one near you.
• Talk about it April 22 is intended to be a global day of conversation about climate action. Bring your kids to one of hundreds of town-hall-style meetings planned around the world at which mayors and community leaders will discuss climate, energy, and sustainability. Help your child write a letter asking a Congressperson to pass aggressive and comprehensive legislation.
• Celebrate On April 24 take your family to one of Earth Day Network and its partners’ major events around the globe. The flagship commemoration will be at the National Mall in Washington.
“Introducing your kids to nature has to include the human environment—having a house that reflects your values, having access to transportation that reflects your values, and making sure that you discuss these things with them. Whether you’re 60 feet underwater, four miles up a mountain, or having dinner at home, the important thing is to be true to what it is you care about. If you lead your life with integrity, your kids always pick up on it.”—Denis Hayes, president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and national coordinator of the first Earth Day
Take your family walking, jogging, or cycling on one of the country’s more than 1,600 rail-trails—“recycled” pathways converted from abandoned railways (find them at traillink.com). Outdoor exercise is just one benefit; there’s also plenty to see. These trails, which appear in every state and span a collective 19,500 miles, traverse national and state parks, run beside waterways, and connect communities. “They take people where [they’re] not going to go by car,” says Jennifer Kaleba of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Using one of these routes for transportation can also cut down on your carbon footprint. Here’s an idea: Form a “walking school bus” and pick kids up on the way to class. (One parent leads, another keeps watch from behind.) Or plan a bike vacation around a trail, and keep your eyes peeled for birds and other wildlife. Learn about volunteer activities or trail events by contacting a local trail group. If there isn’t one, create your own . Celebrate your favorite rail-trail by participating in National Trail Day on June 5.—Julie Leibach
Channel your child’s inner John James Audubon by encouraging her to write or draw in a nature journal. Staple together scrap paper or buy a recycled sketchbook. She’ll need writing tools and a few minutes outside. Suggest she return to the same spot weekly to record what she hears, sees, and smells. Then review her entries together. Inspire repeated journal use with seasonal topics. In the summer, propose that your child describe her camp. In the fall, help her collect dried leaves, place them under paper, and crayon over them to create imprints. The goal: Get your kid to actually stop and experience the roses. For more about nature journals, see Audubon Adventures. —Michele Wilson
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