Children learn best when you engage all their senses, so keep that in mind when choosing educational activities. They love to play, and by turning environmental education into lively activities, you can teach children to value the planet we all share while bringing your family even closer together.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Planting a garden together with your kids opens up continual learning opportunities while keeping education about the environment festive and fun. Involve children in all stages of growing and maintaining an outdoor food garden. Apartment-dwelling parents lacking access to a private yard can still create a beautiful flowerbox herb garden to adorn a sunny kitchen windowsill.

Take the little ones along when you visit the nursery to select plants. Show children how to read the labels on various types of food plants that describe certain characteristics, such as the amount of sunlight certain species prefer or how often they need watering. Challenge each child to select two to three plants they think will work best in your selected garden patch based upon sunlight, temperature and watering needs.

If it’s cold where you are, consider starting your garden indoors from seeds or you can select another source. ] It’s a great winter activity and starting a garden from seeds is fabulous for kids – the longer they are involved in the growing process, the more invested they become in the end result.

Those in dry, desert climates can use this method to introduce their children to xeriscaping, the art of using native plants to create a beautiful “lawn” without needing much upkeep despite soaring daytime temps.

Most kids love digging in the dirt, so allow them to help you hoe, rake and fertilize your garden patch with an organic fertilizer and mulch. If you compost food scraps, even better — teach kids about what they can and cannot compost for their garden. When the time comes to harvest the fruits of your labor, use this opportunity to discuss food waste by letting the children decide what to do with a bumper crop. They might sell food at a front-yard stand or donate the fresh fruits and veggies to homeless shelters, for example.

Have a Green Movie Night

Everyone loves family movie night, so get the popcorn popping while you allow your kids to select a movie that carries a positive environmental message. Younger kids love animated movies, so opt for old and new classics such as “The Lorax,” “Happy Feet” or “Fern Gully — the Last Rainforest.” Older children who can understand more adult messages may enjoy movies such as “An Inconvenient Truth” or “Plastic China.”

Making Eco-Friendly Arts and Crafts

Think eco-friendly when it comes to creative craft time. Tons of internet sites provide parents and caretakers with arts and crafts activities for the kiddos. Activities range in variety from creating posters illustrating environmental concepts to making birdfeeders that attract hummingbirds to your porch. Don’t overlook keeping the kids busy on longer drives — provide the littles with environmentally themed coloring and activity books to raise their eco-consciousness while avoiding whines of, “Are we there yet?”

Play the Reduce and Recycle Game

Teach young children about the importance of recycling and reducing waste with a fun game! Using household objects like empty milk cartons and shampoo bottles, have the kids guess whether the item should go in the garbage, the compost bin or the recycling container. Embrace teachable moments such as stopping at local convenience stores and letting children choose between disposable cups or reusable ones, and have them explain the consequences of their choice.

Challenge children to identify ways they can cut down on waste, such as switching from paper towels to reusable microfiber ones, and reward their creative ideas like letting them select the family dinner plan for the next week. When choosing school supplies, have the kids analyze the packaging for different objects and discuss which ones create the most waste.

Visit a Science Center and Learning Opportunities

Kids love field trips of any kind, even those with mom and dad, so if you have a science center, planetarium or museum in your area, take the children and make a day of scientific and environmental observation. Some science centers even offer summer camps for school-aged children that focus on preserving our natural resources, so investigate this option if you’re struggling to decide how to keep the kiddos occupied.

You may be able to take care of other learning opportunities available. There may be wildlife conservatories in your area, or even some programs for children to educate them about the ocean, the environment or wildlife conservation. Programs like these should be discoverable in your area from a Google search.

Take Part in a Beautification Group

Almost all communities have networks of volunteers who clean up litter from parks, public areas and roadways. Since safety remains paramount, younger children can involve themselves in a cleanup of a local playground, while older kids conscious of traffic safety can join you on an Adopt-A-Highway cleanup. You and your children can meet new friends who also care about the planet, and you’ll both benefit from the exercise as well.

Teaching kids how to protect our environment starts from the time they begin to speak. Modeling a good example for your children by actively involving them in eco-friendly activities makes caring for our planet just a natural part of their daily lives. Mother Earth will thank you for raising environmentally conscious children.

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Emily Folk contributor

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