Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Sharing a good book with our little ones provides one of the best ways to teach young kids about important topics like the need to care for our damaged planet. Moreover, engaging in conversations and taking actions that reinforce the messages of the books we read together are some of the most valuable ways of building our children’s growing literacy skills and bringing home a book’s message. (Read our article on 7 Guaranteed Ways to Engage Kids with Family Read-Alouds to learn about why engaging around a book—beyond just reciting the words on the page—is so important.)

Taking your story time with your child and transforming it into a story time activity is a fun and powerful way to build that engagement. Here are three simple ways to create a sweet Earth Day story time activity. 

Take Your Child on a Nature Walk Story Time

One of the first steps on the journey of raising children who care for the Earth is getting them out in nature. My nine-year-old son still fondly remembers the little nature walks he and I used to take while his older brothers were at school. What he doesn’t realize is that these walks not only helped build a foundation for his continued love of nature, but also built his pre-literacy skills, which have allowed him to excel as a reader. Here’s why:

Any walk in a natural environment is a great place to start building a love of the Earth. But adding a story time element brings even more learning and engagement to the activity, not to mention an extra chance for cuddles with even the most active of little ones, which will refill your tank as a parent and help them learn to love books. 

Pack up a picnic blanket, snacks (in reusable containers, of course), and a few picture books about caring for the environment, or about interesting animals, nature, weather, or other related topics. One book I recommend is TuTu Goes Green by Tulani Thomas. This cute picture book explains in clear, relatable language how even young children can recycle, reuse, reduce waste, and take other small actions that help the planet.

As you walk, point out bugs, plants, spiderwebs, and leaves. Conversation is one of the best ways to build pre-literacy skills, so engage your child’s questions and enjoy their wonder at all they see. Their interest in what they’ve seen will prime them for the message in Thomas’s book. When your child is ready for a snack, find a pretty spot to lay out your blanket. Bring out the snacks, reusable water bottle, and TuTu Goes Green or whichever stories you’ve chosen. 

Point to the words on each page and engage in conversation about what you are reading and how it relates to the nature around you. This will help build and deepen comprehension. You can talk with your child about ways they are already like TuTu and come up with other ideas of how they can help care for our world. 

Reinforce the Message with Recycled Art 

Once you are home, a fun way to continue the learning and engagement around TuTu Goes Green is to set your child up to make art projects from reusable materials. Remind your child how TuTu loves to recycle and reuse things, and explain that you’ll show them ways to put some items around the house to a new use. Be sure to listen to their ideas, as well!

As any parent of young kids knows, packaging can often be as interesting as new toys (or more so). You can point out that when your child wants to play with a box, ribbon, or other interesting “trash,” they are reusing materials “like TuTu” and that this is a fun way to help the Earth. You can even help them set up their very own “reuse bin” where they can keep interesting “trash” to use in future art projects.

For older kids who are ready for a directed activity inspired by the story, making recycled pencil and pen holders, like TuTu has, is a fun way to deepen engagement with the book. All you need are some clean and empty plastic containers, paper, scissors, tape, and markers. 

Just help your child cut the paper to fit around the container, have them draw a picture (possibly of nature from your outing together) and then wrap it around the container. Voila! Also check out our DIY Recycled Pencil Holder tutorial.

Put their Learning into Action with “Green” Signs

Kids who are inspired to be like TuTu and work to save the environment are sure to want to take some additional actions of their own. Another fun activity that will help kids connect letters to words and build literacy, while reinforcing the messages about helping the Earth, is to make signs to remind family members to turn off lights, use less water, and recycle. 

Together with your child, cut cardboard from a cereal box, and use markers to make cute signs for your child to hang around the house. You can write these down for your child or help them write them, depending on their level.

Have your child make up their own messages or try these:

Save water: turn off the tap while you brush your teeth!

Save energy: turn off the lights!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Finding ways to engage around the books we read to our children builds their comprehension of the written words and their understanding of what reading is all about. It will be a joy to see your little one inspired to be like TuTu and go green this Earth Day—and all year long!

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