Dear Dr. Debbie,

Some days it’s easier to manage our carbon footprint as a family.

Mostly I’m the one who has to remind the children and the husband about the rules for recycling, to re-wear still clean clothes, and to add to the compost pile instead of using the garbage disposal. With Earth Day coming up this week, how can we re-charge our mission to save the planet?

Earth Mother

Dear E.M.,

Kudos to you for keeping your family on a steady path. It takes effort to learn what to do and to make those earth-conscious actions part of your daily habits.   

Healthy Competition

If your family enjoys keeping score, work out a cooperative competition to reduce, re-use, and recycle. Have a meeting to set up personal and group challenges then mark your progress. Some examples: take turns in teams to prepare as close to a zero-carbon meal as you can (use no electricity and little that needs to be washed; there’s only compost and recycling); count up how many miles each person can travel on foot (or bicycle) instead of by using motorized transportation; spend leisure time entirely away from electronic screens and gadgets (read a book, play a board game, sketch the clouds); gather up clothes, books, toys, and other items to give away so someone doesn’t have to buy something new.

At Chesapeake Children’s Museum we devised a way for Girl Scouts to be conscientious about their water use. Each person is allotted 10 rubber bands for the day, to wear on her wrist, to be used as “payment” for every 3 seconds of running water. Flushing a toilet counts for at least 2 rubber bands. The challenge, of course, is to conserve your personal use of water, however, we also stress being generous if you see someone who is running low – perhaps because she washed some dishes for the group. It’s the same with our planet. If we practice conservation, there are plenty of resources for us all, but not everyone has equal need or access. Therefor we must help each other out whenever we can!

Family Garden

This is the time of year to start a family garden, even if it’s just a couple of pots on a sunny balcony. The basics are dirt, sun, and water. But think about what your family likes to eat so they’ll stay involved from the start to the harvest. Get tips on what to grow and how to grow it from the University of Maryland Extension , a free service with over one hundred years of experience.

To start a veggie garden from seeds, use an empty egg carton. Seed packs are sold at some grocery stores, most hardware stores, as well as garden centers. You can also use seeds from foods you’ve eaten, such as: watermelons, pumpkins, and acorn squash. Or my personal favorite, cut up the potatoes that have started to sprout!

Flower gardening is an Earth Friendly activity since that helps out the pollinators – bees and butterflies – who work their special magic when they visit vegetable farms and fruit orchards to help plants make food for us. You can find free flower seeds on the dried out “heads” of last year’s flowers. Just shake or pluck them off and start them in a bit of soil in an egg carton or small pot until you have a seedling that is big enough to plant in the ground. 

Role Models

Spend this week adding to your family’s appreciation of individuals who have done a lot for the earth. Learn about conservationists, inventors, parks advocates, and others who are shining examples of prizing and protecting the planet. 

President Teddy Roosevelt established 150 national forests and other protected public lands – 230 million acres – that we can still enjoy more than a century later. 

Sen. Gaylord Nelson added a network of trails to our national resources. He proposed the idea of a national Earth Day to bring more attention to what we can do for our planet.

Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” to bring attention to the (literally) crushing effects of pesticides on birds’ eggshells. Her work led to effective legislation. 

Jane Goodall spent decades studying and chronicling the lives of a chimpanzee community, awakening the public’s eyes to the common needs of “wild” animals and humans. 

Isatou Ceesay was disturbed by the littering in her beautiful homeland, the Gambia, and learned to upcycle discarded plastic bags into items she and her friends could sell. 

Greta Thunberg is a young global advocate for activism. Now age 18, she has had many years of experience in taking a stand for action against Climate Change.

Nature Walks 

One easy way to remind your family to take care of the planet is to get outside and enjoy it! Find a new park or trail to explore. Re-visit a place you’ve been many times to see the seasonal changes. Use photography, sketching, or haikus to capture the beauty of what you see.  

Stay strong on your pro-earth strategies. The planet needs us now more than ever.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist  and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.

For more Earth Day fun, be sure to check out local events Chesapeake Family rounded up with Earth Day Events 2021!