Earth Day may be on a Sunday this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some amazing activities leading up to the event. It is important that every person does their part to protect our place on the Earth, and Earth Day is the perfect time to do this.
This year the Earth Day Network is focusing its efforts on ending plastic pollution. While there are some great resources on the website don’t feel like you have to stick to this topic in the classroom. There’s tons of Earth Day activities you can do, whether they’re in the classroom or across the entire school.
Break your students into research teams. Each team will be reporting their own research to you and the class in the hopes of receiving funding for their project. The objective is to prove that their projects are the most important for creating a sustainable planet. You may want to assign each team a topic or let each team come up with a topic on their own. Your research teams will take notes, gather evidence, and create a presentation to show off their work.
Pollution is a huge problem facing the planet today, and while most students have heard of pollution a lot of them don’t understand the scope of it. Giving students a visual of pollution can make a huge difference in how they understand the concept. We recommend using a combination of images and video for the biggest impact. Our top picks for this activity are:
- Chernobyl, Ukraine (radiation)
- Dzershinsk, Russia (chemical waste)
- Citarum River, Indonesia (Water pollution)
- Linfen, China (air pollution)
- Yamuna River, India (water pollution)
- Delhi, India (air pollution)
Start by taking your students to the cafeteria so they can see just how much food and garbage is thrown away every single day, just in one lunch period. There’s a lot of waste in the world today, as illustrated by the many overwhelming landfills. To help combat this, you can begin the process of composting in your classroom. This is also a project that can be observed throughout the year. Students can record what materials break down fastest. What should the class do with the soil?
This guide is a great resource for setting up a composting bin in your classroom.
Ideally you’d have space outside for this, but if not you can always start an indoor garden. As long as you have windows that receive decent sunlight, you’ll be able to grow plants. Start with a recycled container that you’ll use to plant seeds or cuttings in. Make sure to choose plants that require less sunlight if you’re growing indoors.
If you have an outdoor space you have a lot more options. Either way try growing something that students will actually be able to eat, whether it is a fruit, vegetable, or herb. Students will get to sample their hard work and watch the life cycle of a plant as it grows.
Let’s Talk About Antarctica
Earth Day activities tend to focus on issues closer to home, but showing your students the impact humans are having in Antarctica can really give an appreciation for how far our reach is. Antarctica is free of permanent human settlements and is one of the last untouched areas in the world.
There are more threats to this far-off continent than you may think. Climate change is leading to a loss of sea ice in the area. Invasive species are making it to the continent when boats dock. Pollution makes it this far south and tourism to the area is only adding to this. Discuss the global impact these changes will have with your students and brainstorm ways to lessen the changes to the continent.
Ask students to split into groups and discuss ways they can make the classroom or the entire school more green. Give them time to research and prepare materials that they will present to the class. Assign this project with the intention of following through on these ideas, so remind students to keep it realistic. You can provide some broad areas of interest for your students to focus on if you wish, such as electricity, littering, recycling, and anything else you can think of.
Calculating an environmental footprint allows you and your students to understand how much of an impact everyone is having on the environment at an individual level. Students can use this calculator to figure out their own footprints. Encourage students not to only do the base questions, but add details for a more accurate result.
Questions cover eating habits, housing (including building materials, electricity use, waste, etc), transportation (including fuel efficiency), so it may be wise to do the quiz yourself ahead of time so students can ask their parents to give them information they probably don’t know on their own. The quiz will provide results as well as some basic solutions to improve scores.
From here students can brainstorm ways to decrease their environmental footprint. Can they carpool with classmates or take the bus? Invest in more energy efficient lightbulbs? This activity is a great way to show students not only their impact, but how to decrease that impact.
Of course these are only a few of the Earth Day activities you may choose to do in the classroom. There are hundreds of ideas out there, but we recommend focusing more on lessons that will stay with your students rather than crafts or a one-time school cleanup.