5 Earth Day Activities for the Library
Earth Day is fast approaching, and the library is the perfect place to teach kids about the dangers facing our environment and what we all can do to help protect it. This might sound daunting, but it doesn’t need to be — check out these activities from past LibrarySparks writers that will not only teach kids about the importance of being environmentally responsible, but also prove that practicing the Three Rs can be fun — on Earth Day and every day.
1. I Can Do That! Read-aloud and Activity by Judy Bradbury
Gather props, including an empty water bottle, an empty soda can, a crumpled sheet of paper and an empty cardboard box. Place the props in view as children enter the room. Begin by asking children what they might call this collection. Ask: “Why do you think I have collected these items?” Then, ask children what it means to litter and why it is a problem.
Continue the discussion by asking what they know about recycling. Break down the word: re-cycling. Ask children to help define the word. Discuss how recycling is accomplished in your community: How are recycled materials collected? How does the school participate in recycling efforts?
Next, show the cover of the book Recycling Day by Edward Miller and read the title. Tell children that today they will hear a story about a group of kids who volunteered to pitch in to clean up a vacant, or empty, lot filled with litter. After reading the pages on which the man is littering and the vacant lot fills higher and higher with trash, pause to discuss. Say, “Often we think that just one piece of trash doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference — a gum wrapper, a soda can, a single piece of crumpled paper or a tissue or two. But when we litter, trash piles up and becomes a problem.”
On the pages that explain in simple detail how recycling is accomplished, take time to review the processes. Consider briefly the “Think Green” facts. After reading the book, work with students to list new vocabulary words on the whiteboard or chart paper: vacant, recycle, compost, landfill and litterbug. Review their meanings.
Break the group into four teams. Each team will create an “I’m In! I Choose to Make a Difference” poster on one of the following topics:
- Items that can be composted
- Items that can be recycled
- Items that are not recyclable
Alternatively, give each student a piece of green construction paper. Have students use the “Think Green” facts listed in the book to create “I’m In! I Choose to Make a Difference!” fast-fact signs to display in the hallways. Discuss how signs must list a fact simply, clearly and concisely. What visuals will they create to draw attention to their signs so students will read them?
Prominently display all of the signs and posters in the library.
2. Recycled Public Artwork by Amy Koester
Artists add joy and beauty to their communities through their creations. A number of artists choose to repurpose trash to create their art; the end result is recycled artwork that reduces waste in the community while producing pieces of visual interest.
Share a few whimsical poems about recycled art from Simon and Sheryl Shapiro’s What Can You Do with Only One Shoe? Then provide children with a wide range of recyclable items (e.g., cardboard of all shapes and sizes, plastic bottles, bottle caps, scraps of paper and leftover craft supplies), as well as some basic tools like scissors, tape and glue, to create their own recycled artwork. For children who may like more direction for their activity, encourage them to create a sculpture out of the supplies at hand. Display as many pieces as possible, and booktalk titles like Trash to Treasure: Fun, Easy Projects with Paper, Plastic, Glass & Ceramics, Fabric, Metal, and Odds & Ends by Pam Scheunemann to encourage children to continue pursuing recycled art projects on their own.
3. Recycling Paper by Amy Koester
Reducing waste makes a huge difference in preserving the environment. Recycling is a major way to reduce waste, but another way is to make your own goods. Paper is one such good that can be recycled or made by hand. Read The Story of Paper by Ying Chang Compestine to learn where paper was invented, and then watch the video “Haitians Making Paper” in the Wonderopolis article “How Do You Make Paper from a Tree?” Provide materials for children to make their own paper from scraps, such as used computer paper, pieces of tissue paper and craft paper, and lunch bags. Use a recipe for making paper from the back matter in The Story of Paper or online instructions like those from eHow.
4. Recycling Contest by Aileen Kirkham
Work with your principal and plan a contest among grade levels to collect several types of items that can be recycled, e.g.,aluminum cans, plastic bottles and newspapers (no glass or materials with potentially sharp edges). Designate a collection container for each type of item for each grade level in a certain area of your school (the multipurpose room might be a good option). Encourage parent and community volunteers to assist with counting on the deadline day and announce the results. Provide the grade level that wins with book coupons to check out an extra book and/or a popcorn party. Remind students that recyclable items can be collected year-round — recycling goes on every day!
5. Healthy Earth Mascots/Puppet Shows by Diane Findlay
Have students create animal puppet mascots using discarded or recycled materials. They might choose an endangered animal or an environmental issue they’re passionate about for the mascot to represent. They can make hand puppets, stick puppets or other variations that fit their ideas. Puppets can speak for their species or for the planet’s need for TLC. To spark creativity, show the Glove Octopus Puppet, Puzzle Pieces Alligator, and Display Bird in Earth-Friendly Crafts by Kathy Ross.
After making puppets, have students work in pairs or teams to write short puppet plays about some aspect of keeping Earth healthy. Gather props, rehearse with puppets and perform!
What great lessons have you used to celebrate Earth Day and promote the Three Rs? Share your ideas in the comments below.