Earth Day is on the horizon, and many families are feeling more gratitude than ever for the beauty of the natural world. With state parks closed and many trails overcrowded due to the pandemic, it’s time to get creative about getting kids into nature and instilling the values of environmental stewardship and respect. Read on for the ultimate Earth Day guide for Portland families.

Crafts

Spending most of your time indoors? You can still connect to Mother Earth using your imagination (and maybe a bit of hot glue.) See what you can make with an empty Amazon box, or braid a set of garlands using old t-shirts! You can make beautiful mobiles using watercolors and egg cartons, or put together portraits of adorable little leaf creatures using natural materials from the backyard. When in doubt, raid the recycling bin and break out the low-heat glue gun! Let your kiddo make his own little village, spaceship, or firehouse using empty milk cartons and cereal boxes. You’ll be teaching your child to reuse and upcycle, all while keeping them busy for a few hours.

See our handy guide for even more crafty ways to celebrate Earth Day!

Projects

Though many popular area Earth Day events are likely to be canceled this year, you can still make a small gesture of love for the earth that makes a big impact on your kids. With a handful of wildflower seeds and a muffin tin, you can make seed bombs to give and use. Grow some hope by starting some seeds indoors in a mason jar, so you can watch the roots and shoots emerge. Support wildlife by creating a bee and bird bath, setting up a nurse log for fungi and insects, or protecting birds from window strikes. Visit Portland’s Backyard Habitat Certification website to learn more. Start a worm bin indoors, or commit to collecting kitchen scraps for the city’s composting program. Learn about and participate in this year’s Earth Hour, a project of the Portland Audubon society aimed at reducing light pollution. Or go all out and take action during International Dark Sky Week, April 19-26 this year.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Films

Nothing says family time quite like movie night! Spread out a picnic blanket in the living room, pop some popcorn, and tune in to an earthy film. Check your favorite streaming service for a film on animals, like March of the Penguins, Monkey Kingdom, or Winged Migration. Watch “Earth from Above: Biodiversity” on Amazon Prime for a bird-eye view of some of earth’s most incredible places. Online, you can watch “Losing the Dark,” a short film about the impact of light pollution on animals and human health. For kids with shorter attention spans, search the free PBS Kids app for “A Nature Hike with Daniel Tiger.”

When you can’t visit in person, consider taking a virtual tour of some of Portland’s beautiful natural areas. Start with a virtual tour of the roses at the Oregon Garden, then head to the Portland Japanese Gardens, where interactive 360-degree photos let you explore the garden during different seasons. Check your favorite natural area’s website for additional virtual tour resources, and if you’re able, consider making a small donation to support them during closures. (Speaking of the Internet, why not switch search engines for the month and help Mama Earth while you surf? Ecosia is a search engine that helps plant trees.)

Need more inspo? Check this list of Eco-Friendly Films.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Books

Take advantage of the many online resources for audiobooks and e-books made available for free during the pandemic. Inspire kids with the story of young climate activist Greta Thunberg, with Greta and the Giants, by Zoe Tucker, or Our House is on Fire, by Jeanette Winter. Tall, Tall Tree, by Anthony D. Frederick, teaches kids to count while learning about giant redwood trees, while the touching Oliver: The Second Tallest Living Thing on Earth, by Josh Crute, imparts an important lesson about comparison and friendships in the context of the world’s largest trees, in Sequoia National Forest. Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals, by Nicola Davies, is a colorful book of poems about the animal kingdom for younger children, and Animals by the Numbers, by Steve Jenkins, will satisfy older readers’ appetites for interesting animal facts.


Photo by Mabel Amber via Pixabay

Outdoors

Pull on some gloves and mask, and grab a garbage bag, and pick up trash in your neighborhood. Practice social distancing and safety: kids can use their keen eyes to spot garbage, while adults handle disposal. Visit the Friends of Trees website to learn more about planting trees, then order one from the Arbor Day Foundation and hold a tree-planting ceremony in your yard, or in a large pot. If tree-planting isn’t possible for you, you can find a nearby tree and practice “tree meditation:” science says just 5 minutes of staring at a tree reduces the body’s stress response! (This works even if you can’t get to an actual tree; the brain does the same thing with a photograph.) With area trails currently inundated with visitors, stay informed on current pandemic guidelines, and make a responsible choice before embarking on a hike further from home. The Forest Park Conservancy maintains an updated blog on safe hiking practices in response to COVID-19, including a map of the park’s 19 different access points, in case your favorite trailhead is overrun. Or consider taking a nature walk closer to home: see how many different colors and shapes you can find in the natural world, and record them with drawings in a small notebook. Here are more ideas for observing neighborhood plants and wildlife with kids.

Even more ideas:

Easy Ideas to Help You Go Green

8 Useful Ways to Upcycle Your Scrap Paper

50 Ways Families can Save the Planet

-Melissa Poulin

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