Did you know that Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, is the largest secular observance in the world? What began as a day of environment preservation in the U.S. is now a large-scale push for clean habitat around the world! Earth Day is proof that one person can make a global impact in a positive way.
Origins of Earth Day
The history of Earth Day begins during a time when the U.S. was experiencing both political and economic ups and downs. During the 1970s the country was divided over the participation of the U.S. in the Vietnam War. The economy was on the move, but it was costing the environment in a big way. Americans were driving large cars that ran on leaded gasoline. Factories, chemical plants, oil industries were booming but so was the production of air pollution and environmental waste. Unlike today, the health of the planet was not a high priority for most people primarily because they were unaware of the dangerous side effects of common everyday practices.
Small groups of individuals were, however, aware of the deterioration of the world around them and began to take steps to inform the public. In 1962 author Rachel Carson published her book 'Silent Spring,' which painted the picture for the environmental decline and raised awareness about preserving the planet. The devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969 was the final push Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson needed to launch his campaign for safer industrial practices.
The First Earth Day
Senator Gaylord introduced his idea for a 'national teach-in on the environment' in 1970. He chose Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair and Denis Hayes of Harvard University to serve as national coordinator. The team recruited 85 individuals to promote the Earth Day concept across the country.
On April 22, 1970, the United States celebrated the first Earth Day. More than 20 million people around the U.S. gathered together holding rallies, demonstrations and participating in activities to promote a clean and safe living environment. Children, adults, students young and old marched on government institutions pushing for new legislation to protect the Earth on local, state and national levels.
Earth Day 1970 saw unprecedented unity among Republicans, Democrats, and individuals of all social and economic backgrounds. Thanks to the efforts of the first Earth Day the United States Environmental Protection Agency was founded. Besides, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act were all introduced and passed. It was the beginning of radical changes to better the environment.
Earth Day Goes Global
For the next several decades, Earth Day was celebrated across the United States and focused on finding practical ways to protect the environment at home, at work, and beyond. In 1990, it was time to take the concept to the global level. Under the direction of Hayes, more than 200 million people representing 141 countries around the world came together to celebrate Earth Day and push for environmental improvements on a global level. The event paved the way for future projects including the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit.
Why Celebrate Earth Day?
Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day continues to grow as a worldwide phenomenon focused on promoting clean living and a healthy, sustainable habitat for people and wildlife alike. Celebrating Earth Day serves as a conscious reminder of how fragile our planet is and how important it is to protect it. If it weren't for Senator Nelson taking a stand in the 1970s, we may be still producing lead guzzling automobiles and expanding industrial production via smog, smoke, and waste. We celebrate Earth Day to continue promoting environmental awareness and to remind us that we can protect the earth in our everyday lives as well.
Ways to Celebrate Earth Day at School
Earth Day has made positive impacts on the environment globally, but it can also play a significant role on local levels as well. Young children, in particular, may not realize that there are many ways they can participate in protecting the Earth and make it a safer place. For example, water conservation, recycling and saving energy are all important parts of protecting the environment your kids or kids in your classroom could contribute to. From brushing your teeth with the water off to remembering to turn the lights off when not in the room, these small steps can make big impacts on the planet. Fun Earth Day activities to help young children remember to puts these steps into practice can be found online at study.com.
There are also unique ways for students to celebrate Earth Day in the classroom. Here are few examples.
- Bulletin Boards: Teachers can build momentum for Earth Day by creating interactive 'No Waste' bulletin boards in the classroom. The idea is to create the bulletin board with recycled items and then encourage students to find ways to recycle at home and school. Students can track their recycling progress on the bulletin board. Teachers can award students for their progress along the way as well.
- Poster Projects: Students can also help encourage other students to recycle and be aware of ways to conserve and produce less waste by creating reminder posters and placing them in the classroom and school. Other poster projects may include designing an environmentally friendly home also known as the 'Green House' poster project. This gives students the opportunity to research ways to make their home more environmentally friendly.
- Vocabulary Activities: Studies indicate that repetition and activities can help students process and retain what is learned. Earth Day vocabulary lessons and activities at study.com have been specifically designed for students in ESL classes, but they can also be used for younger students learning new words through word recognition. You can use these lessons as an opportunity to build interest in Earth Day as well.
Ways to Celebrate Earth Day at Home
Earth Day is something the entire family can celebrate together in a variety of ways at home and in the community.
- Plant a tree: This is a great way to teach your children about the importance of trees. For example, trees produce oxygen and that's something both humans and wildlife need to survive. However, hundreds of thousands of trees are cut down yearly in order to make room for new homes, shopping centers and other building projects. Planting a tree together can help restore the balance of the ecosystem and create a lasting memory for you and your family.
- Pick up trash: Take a trip to your local park and teach your children how to pick up trash. Keeping the park clean is great for the environment and it makes the park more enjoyable for kids to play in.
- Recycle: Earth Day is also a time to teach your children about recycling. This is an easy task that can be done at home by simply demonstrating how objects like paper, plastic, and aluminum can be recycled instead of thrown away. Involve your children by giving them a pile of trash to sort into the appropriate recycling bin. Recycling is another small way to make a big impact on the environment.
There are various ways to celebrate Earth Day not only on April 22 but every day of the year. Keeping the environment clean, safe and enjoyable for all of its inhabitants is a full-time job that anyone can participate in. What ways will you be celebrating Earth Day this year? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!