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These days, it’s common to see recycling cans and even compost bins next to regular ol’ garbage cans in stores and on the street, especially in the Bay Area! But did you know that, in the 1960s, few people were familiar with recycling, let alone practiced it?
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A Little Background on Earth Day
(Want to skip the history lesson? Click here to jump straight to the eco-friendly activity ideas!)
After World War II, industry, invention, and technological discoveries advanced at a rapid rate, mostly unchecked. And while this advancement improved the quality and way of life for many, it also meant that our environment bore the brunt of the negative side effects. Factories openly dumped waste and chemicals into nearby rivers and lakes, farmers used pesticides that had deadly cumulative effects on local wildlife populations, and poor air quality increased in big cities due the number of large vehicles on the road, with little thought to the long-term effects on humans’ and our ecosystem’s health. (Read more about that, here!) Environmentalists, like Silent Spring author Rachel Carson and Earth Day creator Senator Gaylord Nelson, worked hard to bring attention to these issues over the years.
The first Earth Day took place on April 22nd, 1969. Senator Nelson intended it as a day of teach-ins, demonstrations, and rallies to bring national attention to the need for environmental protections. The campaign was wildly effective and the next decade brought a wave of environmental reforms and legislation. Now, Earth Day continues to be an annual occasion to educate and heighten awareness. What better time to teach your Girl Scouts about their impact on the planet and the importance of environmental stewardship? Below, I’ve rounded up 10+ eco-friendly activities you and your troop can do for Earth Day—and you’re in luck, because many of them can apply towards earning a badge or the It’s Your Planet—Love It Journey!
Make crafting eco-friendly
Let’s start with that age-old and much loved Girl Scout activity—crafting. Girl Scouts are queens of creative reuse and crafting ingenuity, but try exploring ways to make this troop meeting staple even more eco-friendly. Use recycled materials rather than buying new, purchase non-toxic paints and markers, melt old crayons to make new ones, etc.
- Eco-Friendly Crafting With Kids: 35 step-by-step projects for preschool kids and adults to create together by Kate Lilley contains some awesome and easy to execute ideas if you’re not sure where to start.
- FaveCrafts has a compendium of green crafting ideas to inspire you.
- Stubby Pencil Studio offers natural and non-toxic art supplies!
- When you’re done crafting, rather than tossing your leftover supplies, donate them to some place like the East Bay Depot for Creative ReUse. The Depot is also a great place to hunt for low-cost supplies.
Feed the ducks—but ditch the bread!
If your childhood was anything like mine, at some point you found yourself at a park by a pond or creek ripping up pieces of stale bread and throwing them to a flock of delighted ducks. While it sounds like an easy way to get kids to interact with animals and get rid of uneaten food (using resources wisely?), science has shown it’s actually very unhealthy for them. Bread expands in their stomachs, making them full without getting the proper nutrition they need to survive. So when you take your girls to explore a local park, leave the bread at home and bring along lettuce, corn, oats, rice, seeds (but not nuts!), and other duck-friendly treats.
Note: Be sure to check the park’s policies on feeding ducks and other wildlife first – feeding any kind of wild animals can make them come to rely on human handouts rather than learning how to fend for themselves. No matter how fun it is at the moment, it can be a long-term hazard to their health.
Alternatively, you could always take a trip to a naturalist education center where you can feed animals, like Little Farm in Tilden Regional Park!
Join a coastal clean-up
We all need a healthy San Francisco Bay. Seven million Bay Area residents, 400 native species, our economy, and quality of life all depend on it. As the heart and lungs of the Bay, wetlands improve water quality, protect our communities from flooding, support thousands of jobs, provide open space for recreation, and capture and store carbon. Join Save The Bay to help restore wetlands for a healthier San Francisco Bay! Volunteering dates can be found online!
Don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area? Many California beaches put on organized beach clean-ups through the California Department of Parks and Recreation, or your troop can reserve a day to pick up trash along your local coast. A quick internet search for “beach clean-up YOUR CITY” is all you need to do to get started. Want to learn more about protecting our coast and ocean here? This website has some great information!
Organize a neighborhood clean-up
Let your girls take charge and organize a clean-up in their neighborhood, local park, playground or school yard. Here are some helpful tips to plan a successful clean-up.
Visit a park
Northern California is home to many gorgeous national parks, and due to Girl Scouts’ continued partnership with the National Park Service, girls can earn a badge while exploring the outdoors through the Girl Scout Ranger program! Every April, girls have the perfect opportunity to jump-start their spring through National Park Week, a celebration that allows free access to national parks across the country. What better chance for girls to discover all the wonders of the natural world and gain a deeper appreciation for their environment? Visiting girls can also work toward their Outdoor badges and patches and start thinking about the other ways they want to get outdoors this season, whether it’s through camp or using suggestions from the The Girl Scout Ranger Program.
Remember to share your outdoor stories on social media—tag @gsnorcal, @girlscouts and @NatlParkService, and use the hashtags #FindYourPark, #NPS101, and #gsoutdoors so we can find and share!
Visit a local farmers’ market
As you wander the booths, have the girls ask the vendors questions to learn what it takes to get the food from farm to table: how they grow the food, what kind pesticides they use, whether they choose to be organic and why or why not, how they transport it to the market, etc. Take a healthy risk and try a new food you never have before. Then have a picnic with the locally grown food you’ve purchased and discuss what you’ve learned!
Visit a wildlife rescue center
California is home to a vast array of wildlife. Girls will learn about local ecosystems and wildlife, the importance of biodiversity, as well as what threatens and how to protect animal habitats. If the center you visit has an animal hospital, you may get to see vets taking care of their animal patients. Many centers will have special programming for Earth Day, so check their events calendars!
- Walnut Creek – Lindsay Wildlife Center
- Redding – Shasta Wildlife Rescue
- Oakland – Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue (YUWR) and Education Center
- Sausalito – Marine Mammal Center
- SF Bay area – full list of rescue and rehabilitation centers
- Statewide – rescue and rehabilitation centers (not exhaustive)
Donate to a cause you care about
One of the things Girls Scouts do best is giving back to their community. Whether it’s a gift of time or resources, donating to an environmental cause shows girls that no matter how daunting an issue seems, our contributions matter. Many wildlife centers like the ones listed above appreciate volunteers and donations of animal enrichment (toys and food) care packages.
Tour a recycling facility
You’ll learn firsthand about how large-scale recycling and composting is handled in your community – the surprising things that can and can’t be recycled, how much energy and resources go into processing waste, the hardworking people who keep our cities clean, and what your girls can do to help. As a bonus, have your girls and parents look up the recycling rules for their city. Every city has different requirements. Here are a few places to start looking for tours:
- Northern California Recycling Association
- Rethink Waste: South Bayside Waste Management Authority offers free school tours
- Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station
- Marin Sanitary Service
Volunteer at a local community garden
Many neighborhoods and cities have community gardens where you can help plant, weed, and learn about urban gardening. You and your troop could also help someone in your community – a senior, one of your helpful volunteers, or a school teacher – clean up and beautify their yard. After the plentiful rain we’ve had this winter, there will be lots of weeding, trimming, and planting to do. If you’re planting, buy native plants from local nursery (or see if they will donate to the cause). Older girls can go a step further and create a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
Watch a documentary
Break out some tasty snacks and plug in one of these films to celebrate Earth Day. Don’t forget to discuss what you’ve learned afterward!
- A selection of excellent kid-friendly nature documentaries
- Mic.com has compiled a list of 11 powerful Netflix documentaries that will change how you think about the planet. However, please note most of the films on this list I would recommend for girls 12 years or older, due the weighty subject matter and visual content.
- See what other young people are doing secure the “legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere” in these short films from Our Children’s Trust.
- Sometimes fiction is our first introduction to real-life issues. Watching Bambi and Fern Gully as a young girl greatly inspired my passion for environmental conservation. Try watching one of these family-friendly movies with environmental themes with your troop and then discuss the real-life problems they touch on (deforestation, global climate change, ecosystem disruption, biodiversity, recycling, etc).
- You can check age-appropriateness of these and any other film or documentary on Common Sense Media’s website. Just insert the film’s name in the search bar.
Want to explore more ways you can celebrate Earth Day?
- Check out these resources from The United States Environmental Protection Agency.
- Ten ordinary activities you might not know are eco-friendly.
- This book has a great collection of co-friendly home practices you and your girls can take home. You’ll be surprised to discover how many harsh chemical cleaners you can replace with things like vinegar and baking soda.
At the end of the day, we only have one planet Earth, so let’s treat her right! Psst—got a cool Earth Day activity planned? Share your troop’s awesome ideas in the comments below!
Ashley Redfield—Ashley is the Digital Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she’s constantly planning, creating, and managing awesome content for social media. After graduating from Mills College (a women’s college in Oakland), Ashley joined the Girl Scout movement where she loves being part of a team that helps girls unlock their potential and continuing that legacy of women’s leadership. She has spent much of her life exploring Northern California, especially the Bay Area, so when not behind a blue-lit screen, you’ll probably find her hiking through a local park or at a café planning her next road trip.