Earth Day is a time to celebrate nature and the environment. Everyone—babies and toddlers included—can learn about taking care of the earth and its resources, and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Activities for 0 to 12 month-olds
Experiment with natural finger paints
Babies love sensory play, and research shows it’s great for their cognitive and physical development. Engaging the senses feels good to your baby, and can smell and taste good, too. This kind of play also helps your baby learn how to be more comfortable with getting messy.
For Earth Day, you can take advantage of the colors and textures of the natural world to make baby-safe, non-toxic finger paint. Using natural ingredients means your baby will be safe if some paint ends up in their mouth, even if they’re not happy about it 🙃
Here’s a baby-safe finger paint recipe to try with your baby:
- Mix ¼ cup plain yogurt (non-dairy yogurts work well too) with 1 tbsp powder for each color:
- Turmeric for yellow paint
- Beet powder for blue paint
- Spirulina for green paint
- Be sure to cover all work surfaces, as these paints can stain. Give your child a large surface to work on, and watch them closely as they paint. Encourage them to mix colors together to see what happens.
- Store leftover paint in tightly-capped jars for as long as the yogurt stays fresh.
Create an outdoor ‘sit spot’
Find an outdoor area to sit together once a day or once a week to observe the natural world. Sit quietly some of the time. Other times, narrate what you see, feel, hear, and smell. Your sit spot may become one of your child’s favorite places as they grow.
Engage in sensory play ‘on the rocks’
Natural materials like rocks can make a great medium for sensory play. Watching the rocks change colors when they get wet, feeling their weight and texture, and seeing them splash in the water teaches your baby about physics 🙂
- Shoebox-size bin
- Rocks that are more than 2.25 inches in diameter but small enough for your baby to handle
Here’s how to make your ‘on the rocks’ sensory box:
- Pour water into a shoebox-size bin to about 1 inch deep.
- Add rocks that are small enough for your baby to handle and large enough not to pose a choking risk.
- Place your baby on the floor in front of the bin and supervise carefully as they explore its contents.
- Your child may pick up the stones and drop them in the water. If not, try demonstrating for them.
Please use as little water as possible for this activity and always stay within arms’ reach of your baby while they play, as they can drown in as little as one inch of water.
Grow a nature lover
Gardening with your baby engages their senses, cultivates motor skills, calms anxiety, and helps them build a positive relationship with nature ❤️
If you don’t have a yard, a container on a deck or balcony will do. Or, if your home has bright natural light, you can grow plants indoors.
- Plant container
- Seeds or seedlings
- Planting soil
- Watering can
Here’s how to grow your mini garden:
- Find a container with good drainage and seeds or seedlings you want to grow.
- Consider plants that stimulate your child’s senses: lamb’s ear feels soft, lavender smells sweet, lemongrass rustles in the wind, and strawberries taste delicious.
- Check to see if they need sun or shade and choose based on your site.
- Let your baby help fill a pot with soil to 1 inch below the top.
- Help them make holes in the soil with their finger and gently place seeds or seedlings in, lightly patting the soil around them.
- Model how to use a watering can or cup to moisten the soil, and then let your baby try.
Activities for 1-year-olds to 2-year-olds
Sort trash together
Depending on where you live, your city may encourage you to separate waste into trash, recycling, and even compost. If you don’t have a local composting program, you can compost pretty easily at home; here are some basic guidelines and how-tos from the EPA.
Separating waste into the correct bins can be tricky, but toddlers love to sort and categorize. Consider keeping a dedicated drawer or container for reusable items, like empty paper towel rolls, cardboard, milk jugs, and other items. These can be reused for all kinds of craft projects.
Some tips and general rules of thumb for separating waste into the right bins:
- Put photos of common items on each bin for a visual guide.
- Anything crinkly (think plastic wrappers) usually goes in the trash; you can consider labeling this bin “landfill” to help teach your toddler where garbage ends up.
- Use the “poke test” to see if plastic is recyclable. Many plastics are, but anything you can poke a finger through easily is not sturdy enough to be recycled.
- Aluminum foil can be recycled, but before you do, try to reuse it several times yourself (keep it carefully folded).
- Don’t recycle anything smaller than a credit card—these items jam the machines that sort recycling.
- More tips here from earthday.org.
Learn more about environmental lessons for your toddler.
Make a DIY birdfeeder
Bird watching is a favorite nature activity for young children, and you can make simple, inexpensive bird feeders at home. A reference book, like the Sibley Guide to Birds, can be fun to keep handy once you’ve hung up your feeder.
Here’s how to make a simple bird feeder at home:
- Find a pine cone and tie a string to one end of it.
- With your toddler’s help, slather it all over with peanut butter (or sunflower butter).
- Give your toddler a small bowl or bin of birdseed, and invite them to roll the pinecone around until it’s completely coated.
- Hang the bird feeder up somewhere you can watch it through a window.
If you don’t have access to pine cones, you can also use a stale bagel.
Make a nature shaker
A shaker is a wonderful first musical instrument—and you can easily make one using items you already have in your home.
- A clean bottle or container with a lid
- Seeds, beans, rice, oats, pasta, beans, or lentils
- Hot glue gun or superglue
Here’s how to make you nature shaker:
- Select an empty water bottle or bubbles container small enough for your baby to hold.
- Pour in dry goods, such as rice, oats, pasta, beans, or lentils, until the bottle is one-third full.
- Seal the cap securely with superglue.
- Create multiple shakers using different containers and contents to make a variety of sounds.
Making sounds with a shaker teaches your child about musical patterns and hones their listening and observation skills 🙂
Please supervise your child at all times during this activity and ensure they do not mouth the contents of the shakers. Small items like these could become choking hazards. Put them safely away when play is done.
Paint with water
Painting with water is a fun, mess-free way for your toddler to dabble in art and explore natural materials and textures🙂
- Bowl of water
- Paper, chalkboard, or outdoor surface
How to get started:
- Hand your child a paintbrush and let them examine it.
- Show them how to dip it into a bowl of water and make marks on a piece of paper, chalkboard, sidewalk, or rock.
- Encourage them to paint on their own or help them practice drawing lines and shapes.
- Let them experiment with brushes of different sizes and other tools, such as a sponge or leaf.
- Discuss the different strokes each tool makes.
- If you’re outside and the sun is shining, point out how the water disappears as it dries.
Holding a paintbrush and moving it across a surface develops your child’s arm and hand muscles and improves their dexterity.
Please be sure to supervise your child at all times during this activity and put materials safely away when play is done.
Activities for 2-year-olds to 3-year-olds
Make a nature collage
Go on a walk with your child and invite them to search for natural objects like pine cones, sticks, leaves, flowers, and small pebbles. Collect them in a basket and when you return home, make a collage. You will need:
- A large piece of paper or cardboard—this is a great way to reuse scratch paper or cardboard from a package.
- A small glue pot and a paintbrush. Water the glue down a little bit for this activity.
- Bowls to separate out different kinds of materials, if you have many of each. This makes for a great sorting activity: petals in one bowl, leaves in another, pebbles in a third, and so on.
Once your child is done, let it dry and display it ❤️
Make seed balls
Seed balls are also known as seed bombs because people used to throw them into empty lots and parks to grow wildflowers and native plants. They’re a fun way to teach your child about how these kinds of plants and flowers grow, and can be made at home with just a few ingredients. Plus, they’re messy to make and fun for your child to throw 😉
To make them, you’ll need:
- 5 parts air-dry clay
- 2 parts soil
- 2 parts water
- 2 parts seeds
- A large container
You can visit your local plant nursery and ask which seeds are native to your area—consider involving your child in the choice of which ones to plant. Mix all of your ingredients together (it’s messy 🙃). Once your mixture is smooth and consistent, it’s time to form the balls. You may need to add a little extra soil or water to the mixture to get it just right. The seed balls should be around the size of golf balls—maybe a little smaller.
Set them out on a tray to dry. This takes a few hours, and you may want to save part two for the next day. Once the seed balls are dry, you and your child can toss them wherever you want the plants to grow. The area where you throw them doesn’t need much soil, and their clay shells form natural protection from sunlight and rodents. They should start sprouting within a week or so, depending on light and water conditions.
Take a nature walk or visit a botanical garden
If you live near a botanical garden, a walk with your child gives them a chance to see, smell, and hear things they may not have access to in their daily life.
If you don’t live close to a public garden, try a city park or even a walk around your neighborhood. The stimulation your child gets by being outside—in a forest or even an urban area—helps build connections in their brain.
Learn more about sensory activities for this age.
Activities for 3-year-olds and up
Go on a nature scavenger hunt
A scavenger hunt in a park or nature area—or even just a walk around the block—gives your child a chance to tune into the natural world around them. If you design your own scavenger hunt, include items that will be easy to spot, plus a couple of challenges.
Common items include animals, flowers, trees, animal tracks, interesting rocks, puddles, something edible, leaves, mushrooms, spider webs, and clouds. You can adjust your list for the region you live in, as well as the season.
For a more sensory scavenger hunt, you can find a free printable here; this list focuses more on action than spotting items.
Pick up litter
Picking up paper, cans, and bottles on a walk is surprisingly fun for young children, especially if you’re prepared. Choosing a local park, beach, or hiking trail to clean up gives your child the joy and satisfaction of restoring a beautiful place. You can also use a cleanup as an opportunity to teach your child about why littering harms the environment.
Here’s how to prepare:
- Bring heavy-duty gloves and a garbage bag.
- Use a stick to pick up things you or your child really don’t want to touch (even with gloves).
- Be mindful of sharp objects, and help your child identify trash that should only be handled by an adult (or left on the ground).
- If you have more than one child along with you, turn it into a friendly competition: who can spot (and pick up) the most trash?
- Take some before-and-after photos to show your child the difference they can make in a short period of time.
You can also introduce the concept of reusing and reducing waste in your home through recycling and repurposing household items. Check out some of our stage-based DIYs in the blog or on Lovevery’s YouTube for fun ways to transform things like yogurt containers, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, wipe packets, and more into ways to play.
Teach your child basic sewing or knitting skills
Teaching your child to sew or knit is great fine motor practice and gets them in the habit of creating and repairing household items so they last as long as possible. Check out the First Sewing Kit in The Analyst Play Kit to get started.
Earth Day reading list
- Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger | Simple lyrical text about nature and an homage to the color green.
- My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan & Francesca Sanna | A sweet book about how the Earth is our friend and how we can be friends with it, too.
- Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson | An interactive board book about changing seasons.
- Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal | A beautiful exploration of what’s above and below the dirt.
- Amara’s Farm by JaNay Brown-Wood & Samara Hardy | A little girl searches for pumpkins on her farm while comparing and contrasting.
- Kate Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon & Lee White | The story of Kate, a little girl who helps her older neighbor plant trees around his house to “tame” the wind.
- Outside In by Deborah Underwood & Cindy Derby | A book about how we interact with nature, even when we’re indoors.
- We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom & Michaela Goade | A story of water conservation from a Native American perspective.
- One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul & Elizabeth Zunon | The true story of Isatou Ceesay and how she revolutionized recycling in Gambia.
- Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers | A celebration of Earth, from the perspective of our place in the universe.
- The Curious Garden by Peter Brown | A boy turns a cityscape into a garden and inspires an entire city.
- One Earth by Eileen Spinelli & Rogério Coelho | An environmentalist counting book.
- Hike by Pete Oswald | A (nearly) wordless story about a boy and his father on a hike.
- 10 Things I can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh | A list of ways children can help care for the planet.
Davidson, Anna. How to Raise a Global Citizen. DK Publishing, 2021.
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