Celebrating Earth Day with children

Earth Day occurs on Friday, April 22, this year. The first Earth Day, held on the same date in 1970, is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, and with helping pass the landmark environmental laws that followed: the Clean Air Act in 1970, the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

One of the goals for Earth Day 2011 is to encourage individuals, organizations, and communities to pledge to do at least one “green act” — plant a tree, replace inefficient light bulbs, ride a bike or walk to work or school, or tackle other large-scale efforts — in advance of the global Earth Summit in Rio in 2012. When I checked earlier this week, the pledge counter on the Earth Day Network website was above 72 million.

A friend complained to me the other day that Earth Day bothered her the same way Mother’s Day does: We shouldn’t honor our mothers or the planet we live on only one day a year. My friend is right. One day isn’t enough to honor the ongoing miracle of life on this blue-green planet, any more than it sufficiently celebrates the work, and the value, of raising children. The history of Earth Day shows us, though, what good can happen even from one day.

Here are five family-friendly ways to celebrate Earth Day around the AMC region, both on the actual day and beyond.

1. Picnic for the Planet. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating Earth Day 2011 by encouraging people to gather together around the world and to pack a “green, smart, and local” lunch. A group is meeting on the Boston Common from noon to 2 p.m. One mother wrote on the website, “It’s school vacation week, so I’m bringing my children!”

2. Find an Audubon event. Audubon societies around the United States are offering a variety of events to celebrate Earth Day. Two examples in the AMC region: The Audubon Society of Rhode Island is offering free guided walks at wildlife refuges around the state and in nearby Massachusetts on Earth Day and the Connecticut Audubon Society is hosting Earth Day fairs around the state on April 30. At the Fairfield Earth Day exploration, for example, children can make crafts and meet animals on the endangered species list.

3. Plant a tree. Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. This year that’s April 29. On the first Arbor Day, in 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted around the country. Now it’s celebrated around the world. Look for tree-planting opportunities in your community, or plant one at home.

4. Pick up trash. As I’ve written here, I spent my early Earth Days picking up trash along roads and out of rivers with my parents and brothers. I continue that tradition with my children. We pick up the trash that’s collected along the side of our road (most of it beer cans) and walk the shallows of the pond looking for fishing line, hooks and sinkers, and sunken worm containers. We’ve noticed that the lakeshore is cleaner now than when we started. Sadly, not so the roads. I think my children learn something about the world, and about themselves, by picking up after other people.

5. Join AMC for Earth Day weekends. AMC is hosting Earth Day weekends through the end of April at Highland Lodge. The programs, which require advance registration, touch on green technologies, carbon footprint analysis, and ways to save energy and reduce consumption at home. They also include short guided hikes, family arts and crafts, a recycling relay, bottle bowling, trivia, and other games related to Earth Day.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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