Earth Day Reflections: 3 Ways to Go Green as a Family

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April 22 is Earth Day!  This is a great chance for parents and their children to talk about how we can care for our planet.  What it really boils down to is recognizing connections.  In our disposable, consumable culture, it can be easy to forget where things come from and what we might do differently to lighten our step on the planet.  Here are some fun and educational ideas to try together…

1. Say Goodbye to Paper Towels

This one is way easier than it might seem.  Paper towels and napkins have been used in American households for generations, but opting for more permanent replacements is super simple.  Instead of tearing off a new sheet, using and it once, and throwing it away, consider some other options.

Cloth napkins are not only more earth-friendly, but they feel nicer to use.  It may seem like a small thing, but selecting and using cloth napkins for meals is a way to infuse everyday life with something a little more special.  Plus, it’s nice to have a collection on hand as many Montessori schools ask for cloth napkins to be packed in children’s lunch bags.

Are you crafty?  Making your own napkins is one of the simplest sewing projects out there.  Find some DIY directions - click here

Pressed for time?  You can buy cloth napkins almost anywhere.  Stores like Marshalls or Homegoods often have designer options for $5 for a package of 4.  Online shoppers will love the selection on Etsy or even Amazon.

To involve your kids, bring them to the fabric store to help pick patterns or have them pick out pre-made options that appeal to them, too.  If you do decide to sew your own, older children can pitch in (and would likely love the opportunity!)

As for paper towels’ other main use of cleanup duty?  Old t-shirts make the best rags.  When you’re getting ready to donate old clothing, pull out items that are stained or torn.  Cut the items into large rectangles and store them in a small bucket under your kitchen sink.

2. Start a Garden

The ultimate way to connect kids to their food is to have them help grown their own.  If you have the space and time, building a raised bed is fairly simple.  Even if you have a tiny apartment in a city, container gardening can work on even the smallest fire escape.  Montessori students study botany starting at the primary level, so you will delight in seeing their excitement while they make connections.

Planning is half the fun.  Sit together as a family and look through a seed catalogue or pile in the car and visit a local nursery.  Figure out what everyone wants to grow and then give it a try.  As a bonus, gardening gets everyone outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine together.

Growing your own food means eating your own food.  Not only is freshly picked produce higher in vitamins, but it tends to taste so much better that what we normally find at the grocery store.  There may be a natural migration from the garden to the kitchen, as toddlers and teenagers alike will want to participate in making something yummy with the fruits of their labor.

The possibilities with gardening are endless.  It’s definitely a learning experience in the beginning, but in no time you’ll be thinking about composting, companion planting, saving seeds, and planning for next year.

3. Speaking of Composting…

If you’re ready to jump even deeper into going green, composting is a fun next step.  There are many ways to compost, but one of the most fun to do with children is vermicomposting.  Special bins are used to house worms that can eat and transform your produce scraps and shredded paper.  

Sound too complicated?  Smelly?  Slimy?  Expensive?

It’s pretty simple to set up, even easier to maintain, and really not gross at all.  An added perk: the resulting compost will make those plants in your garden grow like crazy!  While there certainly are really nice (and expensive) worms bins out there, there are definitely more cost effective ways to try it out.

Some options include the popular Can O Worms or the slightly sturdier Worm Factory. Making your own can cost as little as $20.  Click here for directions

Red wigglers are the best worms to use for vermicomposting.  You may be able to source some locally, but if not Carolina Biological is a great option for mail-order worms.

To get started you should have a spray bottle of water (to keep worms and bedding moist) and some old newspapers on hand.  To prevent unpleasant odors, it’s a good idea to have balance what goes into the worm bin, including a mix of kitchen scraps and shredded paper.  It’s also a good idea to avoid feeding worms animal by products, so keep meat and dairy out.  For the most part, redworms don’t care for onions, although some do so it doesn’t hurt to try.  Follow these simple steps and you will be surprised at the complete lack of odor coming from your bin.

Worm bins can even be kept indoors, with basements being an ideal location for many families (although they stay just about anywhere room-temperature).  

On rare occasions, you may notice some fruit flies in or around your bin.  To make a simple fruit fly trap, use a disposable plastic cup, such as a yogurt cup.  Fill ⅛ way full with water and add a drop or two of dish soap.  Some people like to add a little apple cider vinegar as well.  Cover the top of the cup with a small piece of plastic wrap, secure with a rubber band, and poke a few holes.  Leave the trap sitting inside the top layer of your bin and the problem.

Vermicomposting is a special learning experience for children and adults alike.  Worms teach us about decomposition and ecosystems.  Watching the worms work will give kids a new appreciation for these small creatures, and instill a sense of the interconnectedness of everything on Earth.

Happy Earth Day!