BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
Today is the 32nd Earth Day, a "holiday" born of the protest movement of the late 1960s when U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, of Wisconsin, and U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey, of California, organized a day of environmental demonstrations. Nelson felt compelled by the 1969 oil-drilling blowout and spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., an eerie precursor to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today's children might be oblivious to 20th-century politics, but by nature they are nature lovers. What kid doesn't love flowers, animals, rivers, oceans, forests, rocks, shells, and/or bugs?
If your child's the tree-hugger in your house, they probably already have an Earth Day to-do list for you. If you're the earthy-crunchy parent teaching your kids to care for Mother Earth, here are a few ways to encourage their love of nature and the environment:
For preschoolers, help them create a "Very Hairy Caterpillar" that demonstrates how seeds grow into grass. (Click here for detailed instructions.)
This Disney website suggests mixing potting soil and quick-growing grass seed, pouring it into an old knee-high hosiery sock, then placing hair elastics around the tube of seed-laden soil to create the caterpillar's sections. Soak in water, then place in a sunny spot. Soon the hosiery caterpillar will grow a thick green coat of grass. Watching this teaches young children the basics of plant biology: seeds plus soil plus water plus sun equals growth.
Grade-schoolers can also dabble in growing new plants. Try tin-can herb pots, explained in detail on Crafts.kaboose.com (For directions, click here .)
Basically this entails growing herb plants from their most tender starts into maturity in homemade pots, created from empty food cans. Parents may need to sand off any sharp edges around the open can rims, and punch holes in the bottom of the cans with a drill or hammer and nail. After that, kids can place gravel in the bottom of the cans, top it with potting soil and transplant young herb plants from nursery packs into the cans. Artsy types will enjoy decorating the cans.
"This project not only recycles, it creates new life," as CraftsKaboose points out. Plus, herbs are very hardy. After they're planted, kids can place them in a sunny spot, water occasionally and have the gratification of thriving plants that can handle a bit of neglect.
The blog CraftaholicsAnonymous.net offers instructions for making bottle-cap candles, a project that "upcycles" items that would normally land in the trash, including bottle caps and broken crayons. (Find the details by clicking here.)
Craftaholics Anonymous' "recipe" creates tiny, very cute candles by melting broken crayons in empty soup cans in a double boiler, then placing store-bought candle wicks into upside-down bottle caps before filling the caps with the melted wax. Tweens are capable of doing nearly this entire project without help from Mom or Dad (supervision or help is probably necessary when they're melting the crayons on the stovetop).
TipJunkie.com offers a long list of kid-friendly crafts and recipes tied to Earth Day, including a bird feeder, many of them appropriate for elementary- and middle-school-aged children. To view it, click here.
If your kids are teenagers who have outgrown cutesy crafts but not a save-the-planet mentality, consider letting them join Teens for Planet Earth, a social networking site for youth with a passion for environmental causes. (Click here to see its homepage.)
This network lets adolescents from around the world share information and ideas for environmental projects. It's also a forum for managing local projects (think community service credits); adults can join the site and serve as advisors. The site includes links to other green groups, such as Wildlife Conservation Society and Frogwatch USA sites. Members post comments and videos, establish and join groups dedicated to particular projects or causes, and the site is also a vehicle for gaining grants and awards for environmental efforts.
Are your children ardent environmentalists? Have you taught them to recycle, save water or turn off the lights when they leave a room? Join the conversation at blogs.inlandsocal.com/moms, PE.com or Momarama's page on Facebook. Or send an email to email@example.com. Momarama shares readers' emailed comments with their permission.