Earth Day: Origin, Activities & Books for Children

Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 as a day to teach about the environment.  It is celebrated on April 22 in the U.S., and many countries around the world now celebrate Earth Day.  It occurs in the spring in the northern hemisphere and in the fall in the southern hemisphere.  In 1990, 200 million people around the world participated in Earth Day which boosted awareness about recycling.


  • Plant a small tree sapling at school or in the yard at home.
  • Have children plant seeds in Styrofoam cups and water them as needed.  When plants get big enough, tranplant outdoors.
  • Have a newspaper drive and have children bring newspapers.  Class or student that brings the most gets a certificate or some reward.
  • Have an aluminum can drive and have children bring soda cans that have been rinsed out with water.
  • Take a field trip to a recycling center.
  • Have a guest speaker from a recycling center.
  • Have children sign a pledge that they will turn off the water while brushing their teeth so they won’t waste water.
  • Collect used clothing to donate to a charity.
  • Have children bring items from home that aren’t used anymore (and might be thrown away).  Have a brainstorming session for ideas of ways to reuse the item in a different way.  Think “out of the box.”
  • Decorate a large box to use as a recycling container for paper.
  • Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler contains activities for kids.
  • Earth Day Crafts by Carol Gnojewski.


  • Earth Day by Margaret McNamara.  Good for ages 4-6.  Child learns that even small ideas can help a lot.
  • Earth Day by Trudi Strain Trueit.  Good for ages 6-7.  Scholastic Books.
  • Earth Day by Linda Lowery.  Good for ages 7-9.  Tells about Earth Day in 1970 & 1990.  Discusses pollution, environmental destruction, and wasting of natural resources.
  • Earth Day – Hooray! by Stuart J. Murphy.  Good for ages 7-12.  Teaches how important it is to take care of the earth, whether by recycling cans or planting flowers.
  • Dora Celebrates Earth Day! (Dora the Explorer Series) by Emily Sollinger.  Good for ages 3-7.  Dora finds simple things to do at home that helps the planet.
  • Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler.  Good for ages 4-10.  Can be read or sung to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” as it tells about 12 North American species in their natural habitats.  Includes suggestions for Earth Day activities.  Great illustrations!


  • RECYCLING / The Earth at Risk by Schlessinger Media.  Good for grades 5 and up.

TEACHING ABOUT EARTH DAY – The Three “R’s”: Recycle, Reuse, & Reduce

* RECYCLE – use a recycling bin which is placed out by the curb on trash day or check on locations of recycling stations in your area

  1. Plastics – Look on the bottom of the plastic container and find the triangle with a number inside of it (check with your area to see what numbers they recycle).
  2. Glass – Clear glass (some areas take colored glass)
  3. Paper – Newspapers, phone books, etc. (some areas take cardboard)
  4. Plastic grocery bags – Usually have to be taken to a grocery store

* REUSE – some things can be used again

  1. Donate – Give things to charity.
  2. Hand-me-downs – Give good clothes to someone who can use them.
  3. Reuse paper grocery bags
  4. Reuse plastic cereal bags – Line the bottom of paper trash bags so they doesn’t leak. Use them for chicken bones, etc., to help contain the smell.
  5. Reuse gift bags – Just make sure you don’t give a bag to the person who gave it to you.

* REDUCEReduce the amount of natural resources that you use.

  1. Reduce paper – Read the newspaper online and help save trees.
  2. Reduce gasoline – Plan errands efficiently so that the least amount of gasoline is used.   Walk, ride a bike, or car pool when possible.
  3. Reduce wattage – Use fluorescent light bulbs that are energy efficient.
  4. Reduce heating & cooling – Set the thermostat a few degrees warmer in the summer and use fans.  Set the thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter and wear a sweater if you need to.
  5. Reduce water – Use water-efficient shower heads and take shorter showers.  Only use the dishwasher or clothes washer when you have a full load.  A full dishwasher saves water versus washing by hand.  TURN OFF THE WATER WHILE BRUSHING TEETH.  A lot of water is wasted just from this habit alone.