Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

By Tulani Thomas

In my family, Earth Day is every day. We strive to cherish our planet and never take it for granted. Every day we can do small acts that make a big difference: This is the ethos that I have always taught my children. I try to incorporate nature-friendly living into so many areas of our lives that it becomes second nature (pun intended). We turn the lights off when leaving a room, use reusable water bottles, turn the water off when brushing our teeth, and, yes, eat loads of leftovers to reduce our food waste.  

These are some ways that I instill in my children green habits that will serve them and the environment well as they grow. As with any habit, they’re formed through repetition and revisiting the same idea in different ways. Children love stories, music, play, and crafts. So I encourage finding playful ways to bring the message home, from sharing picture books on environmental topics to engaging in kitchen play about food-to-table concepts or making crafts with recycled items. 

Read on for tips about how to create easy, free Earth Day activities for preschoolers at home to teach your kids green habits, all beginning with a few great reads. (And then check out our related post on An Earth Day Read-Aloud and 3 Fun Activities to Build Early Literacy.)

Start Your Earth Day Activities for Preschoolers with Books

Picture books are one of the best ways to introduce and reinforce any lesson or habit with young kids. That’s why I wrote a children’s book to help families teach their children to care for our planet, called TuTu Goes Green. It’s also why I recommend introducing children to environmentalism through picture books and then reinforcing the messages with related activities. 

Begin by choosing and reading a selection of age-appropriate books. I designed my book specifically to introduce these concepts, and there are so many other great options to choose from as well. Some of my favorite titles that empower children to be change agents for our world are: The Berenstain Bears Go Green by Jan and Mike Berenstain (this is an oldie but a goodie), The Big Beach Cleanup by Charlotte Offsay, and the Save the Earth series by Bethany Stahl. (For older kids, check out Heroes of the Environment by Harriet Rohmer.)

But books are just the jumping-off point. To really build comprehension and bring home the message, how you and your child talk about and act upon a book’s messages are key. In fact, research shows that parent-child conversation around story time involves more complex language and more diverse vocabulary than usual. It gets the child thinking and deepens their understanding, meaning your read-aloud time packs a lot more punch.

Here are ways to build on your eco-story time and deepen your kids’ comprehension:

Incorporate Earth Day Games into Your Everyday Activities

Any parent of young children knows that play is key. Anything you want to teach them, from pre-reading skills to environmental lessons and beyond, is better with games!

Simple games can turn everyday chores and lessons into fun for your preschoolers, so look for opportunities to revisit the messages in your Earth Day books with playful moments throughout your day. Be sure to remind them how what they’re doing is like the characters in the picture books you read.

Here are some ideas:

  • Start counting and see who can turn off the lights the fastest. Explain that this is a great way to save energy. Congratulate them for being environmental heroes!
  • Make it a game to see how little food your family can waste. Invite your child to help package even small amounts of leftovers to save and help you come up with creative ways to work leftover food into new dishes. (How about a smoothie from all those half-eaten bananas and other fruit preschoolers love to leave around?)
  • Invite them to help the planet by sorting used containers and other (safe) household waste into recycling. Have them separate plastic, paper, and other recyclables. Preschoolers love sorting, and it reinforces to them what materials are recyclable. 
  • Bonus: If possible, provide simple waste baskets your child can put in various rooms of your house and help them write labels, such as “paper” and “plastic” on them.

Hands-on projects can show the impact of their actions

Teaching children about environmental issues can be challenging since it’s such a vast topic, and children may struggle to see how their small acts can affect the whole planet. Here are some ways to make these concepts more palpable for preschoolers:

  • Put a large bowl under the faucet while your child brushes their teeth, and leave the water running. Children are always amazed to see the bowl overflow. Then show them how much water they use if you have a cup of water pre-filled for their brushing and rinsing. Physically comparing the amount of water they use when the faucet is left running really brings home how much water is wasted that way.  
  • Use plastic water bottles for a week and save all your empty bottles. Kids will enjoy counting up all the plastic bottles you accumulate to recycle at the end of the week. (Let them write down the number using tally marks, practicing their writing skills at the same time). Look at the pile and invite them to imagine how many bottles you would use in a month, then a year! You can also use this method with pre-packaged snacks vs. reusable snack containers, reusable bags, and so on. 

We can teach our children how to live green and build their reading comprehension and literacy skills at the same time—incorporating both goals into everyday life is simple and fun. Easy, free Earth Day activities for preschoolers like the ones above will ensure your kids develop great habits and important skills from the start. So get reading and go green! 

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Little girl on grass holding up globe