Happy Earth Day everyone – the happy day each year that we all share Facebook posts about how important the earth is, make some super cool crafts about the planet, and think about how we really ought to do something about that climate change thing. It’s so hard. It’s so overwhelming. We want to do our part – we’re concerned, we’re worried for ourselves and for our kids – but it’s so huge.
We also have to be careful not to overwhelm our kids. Because if the gloom and doom of our warming planet can be too much for us to bear, it could crush our kids if we let it. So how can we make Earth Day meaningful beyond today – and make it something hopeful and happy for our kids at the same time? Here are a couple of suggestions (and you’ll note that they’re really all about empowerment and mindfulness):
1. Start a new Facebook or Twitter trend about Earth Day.
Instead of tweeting “Happy Earth Day,” try sharing one thing you do that you feel is kinder to the planet than the way we used to do it. Engage your kids in this activity – have them help you come up with that status update or tweet.
For example, about eight years ago, I switched to hanging my clothes out to dry, even in North Dakota where outdoor lines are impractical in winter. I still dry my denim, sheets, and towels, but that takes up less than half my loads. I bought pretty drying racks from Ikea, and in my 10×10 laundry room space, I have made room for 4 racks, a folding table, laundry baskets, and a utility sink in addition to my washer and dryer. You can do all of this in a small room. Anyway, my tweet might read: “I hang up 75% of my clothes to dry to save energy.” And then give it a fun little catchy hashtag like #earthdayeveryday.
Why does this matter? First of all, you’re helping your kids notice what you’re doing to be a little kinder to the planet. Mindfulness is key here. You’re also sharing your awesome idea with the social media universe. Ask them in turn to share something they do, (and be sure to then share their tweets with your kids). We still have the evening – we could share all sorts of fabulous ideas in the next 10 hours! And of course, you’re also inviting your kids to add their own ideas while possibly opening up great discussion.
2. Talk to your kids, and come up with one new thing to permanently change.
Springboard from this discussion to talk about something new you can do together. You might decide to make more changes as you go, of course, but really master that one thing first. This can be anything you don’t already do: recycling, reducing water, shopping with cloth bags, caulking your windows, buying cardboard milk cartons instead of plastic, finding a local egg provider. (There are a ridiculous number of books and websites with earth-friendly ideas.) It doesn’t have to prevent climate change all by itself. But the activity will once again increase mindfulness while empowering your kids. And have them make the final decision, of course. Check in on a regular basis after you make your change; once you master it, you may decide to add something new. Keep a record of all the changes you make, and use next Earth Day to review your progress.
3. Craft a letter to a government official.
I think the big reason more Americans aren’t involved in political advocacy is because we feel it takes too much time and isn’t worth the effort. But falling back on that argument is no better than devaluing the act of voting simply because you are one among so many. If you vote (and you should), then you should tell the people you voted for what you care about! Teaching this simple lesson to our kids is so important. And it can literally take 15 minutes. Hop online (with your kid). Find your mayor’s email (or your governor’s or senator’s, or all of them – with your kid). Ask your child what concern they would like to share with that official. Have your child write a one- to two-paragraph email or letter, sign it and send it.
Change can happen this way. Our town finally adopted curbside recycling last year after enough people rallied and wrote and asked and advocated. Be a voice, and lift up your child’s.
4. Take on something huge.
Of course, you can also use this time to be creative. Back about six years ago, I developed a small non-profit called the Arlis Saxon Eco-Kids Project that awarded grant money to improve the environmental footprint of elementary schools. I raised the grant money and had all funds matched by the local PTAs. The catch was, the students had to write the proposals. They had to decide on their project, come up with budgets and timelines and objectives and activities. I’m a former grant-writer, so I went in (for free) to the classrooms and trained them how to do this. It was so much fun. We had great discussions, they learned how to identify problems and propose solutions, learned how to organize their thoughts, created budgets, and present their applications. If the grants weren’t quite up to snuff, I offered revision suggestions, and allowed them a second submission. I funded all the applications that were submitted, and they got to experience real change in their schools. The program ran for four years.
This is a huge project, but it doesn’t have to be. You can set aside a couple hundred dollars and do it at home, offering the money for a project your child proposes. This project combines research and writing techniques, science and math, social responsibility and leadership. Pretty fabulous all around.
None of these things of course will stop pollution, slow down climate change, or keep a species from going extinct. But it will build mindfulness, it will empower kids to take their own place in the world, and to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. And that is for me what learning is all about.
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