Celebrate Earth: Throw a Party for the Planet
By teaching our children to care for the planet, we can leave a legacy of environmental responsibility that will outlast our days. Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to focus on ways to take care of Mother Earth. Why not throw a party on or near this year’s day of celebration? Making a difference can be all in a day’s fun with one of these Happy Earth Day party options, appropriate for any time of the year.
Read It Again
The Facts: Schools in affluent areas often have more resources for students than those in poorer areas. That means many kids’ classrooms don’t have bulging bookshelves to entice young readers and support teachers’ lesson plans. Recycling reading materials is earth-friendly and oh-so-easy. Learn more at www.booksfirst.org.
The Fun: Host a bookish bash for your kids and their friends. Invite pajama-clad partiers of all ages to bring books they’ve outgrown and get several goofy grownups to read the favorites aloud. Use your silliest voices and outrageous props to make this a storytime to remember.
Pay It Forward: When the party’s over, donate guests’ well-loved books to a local school in need or Bookfirst! This community-building charity sends needed books to under-resourced classrooms grades kindergarten through 12 across America.
Make a Splash
The Facts: The oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of its water, but they’re under threat. Pollution and over-fishing destroy the habitats of many marine species, and some types of whales, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and sharks are endangered. And global climate changes mean rising water levels and temperatures.
The Fun: Screen the Discovery Channel hit Blue Planet (or another ocean-related documentary) at a water-themed celebration. Kids and grownups will have a whale of a time eating ocean-inspired treats while watching exhilarating underwater documentary footage. Serve goldfish crackers and gummi sharks or make starfish sundaes. (Decorate small, star-shaped sugar cookies with colored sprinkles and stick them on ice cream “rocks.”)
Pay It Forward: In lieu of ticket sales, collect donations. Send them to an organization such as the Ocean Conservancy, an advocacy organization that promotes healthy and diverse ocean ecosystems (www.oceanconservancy.org); a marine-wildlife rescue organization such as the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at Topsail Beach, N.C. (www.seaturtlehospital.org), or a local waterways or wetlands preservation project.
Save a Species
The Facts: Biologists estimate more than 500 plants and animals have become extinct in our country since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. While extinctions do occur naturally, the current rate of extinction is about 1,000 times higher than it was before humans appeared on Earth. Find out which animals are endangered in North Carolina at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web site (www.fws.gov).
The Fun: Choose a threatened or endangered animal that excites your kids — how about bats, birds or cougars? — and throw a save-the-species soiree. Let kids decorate with animal pictures and fun facts they find online or at the library. Plan games and activities around your animal theme or get a long sheet of butcher paper and let the kids paint a mural depicting the endangered guest of honor.
Pay It Forward: Collect donations from guests to send to a related charitable organization. Need ideas? Consider the American Bird Conservancy (www.abcbirds.org) or the Wildlife Conservation Network (www.wildnet.org). Local organizations include the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Carnivore Preservation Trust and Audubon North Carolina.
Flutter By, Butterfly
The Facts: Butterflies are beautiful and fragile indicators of ecosystem health. They pollinate wild plants and agricultural crops, ensuring animals and people have food to eat. And butterflies themselves are a valuable source of food for songbirds. Learn more at The Butterfly Conservation Initiative, www.butterflyrecovery.org.
The Fun: Plan and plant a butterfly garden at your school or in your neighborhood. Pick a sunny spot and let kids dig in the dirt and plant flowering nectar sources like asters, cornflowers, dogbane, goldenrod and zinnias. Be sure to include plants that provide food for butterfly larvae, too (clover, milkweed and passion vine are good options). Place several large flat rocks in the garden so the butterflies can sun themselves after feasting and add a watering hole for thirsty guests. The National Wildlife Organization has more information at www.nwf.org/backyard/butterflies.cfm.
Pay It Forward: Plan a monthly or quarterly butterfly garden party to clear out debris, plant new flowers, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
Strong community ties are good for you, your kids and the planet.
Heidi Smith Luedtke is a psychologist turned freelance writer who lives in Virginia.
Choosing Organizations to Support
Whether you’re donating money, material goods or time, you want maximum impact. Here are some things to consider:
Can you keep it local? National charities often have greater visibility, but there are many worthy organizations close to home. Keeping it local makes it easier for kids to see (and maybe even touch) those they’ve helped. One place to start is the North Carolina Office of Environmental Education, www.eenorthcarolina.org, which has a list of environmental organizations under “resources.”
Is the charity financially responsible? Nonprofit organizations vary. Some use resources very efficiently, spending little on overhead and advertising. Others spend less than half their money on actual programs. To find local and national charities related to issues that interest you and identify smart spenders, visit www.charitynavigator.org. Their four-star rating system will help you get the biggest bang for your buck.