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13 Earth Day Activities For Toddlers, Beyond Letting Them Run Wild

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I'm big on Earth Day. I'm a big advocate for being as environmentally responsible as possible and on Earth Day, I feel like everyone around me is in agreement. In this current political culture of climate change denial and national park prices increasing faster than the entrance to Disney, it feels especially important this year. If you have a little one, you might want to get them involved beyond just playing in muddy puddles a la Peppa Pig. Turns out, there are plenty of Earth Day activities for your toddler that won't break the bank or bring your house down around your ears in a mess.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Pinterest, YouTube, and educational blogs to find the best bets for you and your little one. It's never going to be completely clean and quiet when a toddler's involved, nor should it be. However, you can take measures to balance the mess with the fun and add a ton of learning into the mix. Let's face it, we're only given one earth, and we're not doing the best job of protecting it. Maybe we of the FernGully generation can teach our kids to be better stewards than we've been so far. Let's be honest, the last thing we want to do is re-read The Giving Tree while sobbing uncontrollably. We have Grey's Anatomy for that.

1Build A Terrarium

SciShow Kids on YouTube

Take all your old jars — the big ones, the little ones, the spaghetti jars that are stacked 40 deep in your pantry because you're going to reuse them. (I swear, husband. I have plans for all of them.) Make an abundance of terrariums. Not only does it teach about the water cycle, it also gives them plants to learn about, and it's really fun to build. Bonus: they're gorgeous. You can buy plants or kits on Amazon starting for about $15. I've made several with my kids, and they loved it.

2Make Your Own Paint Brushes

CAP Tulsa on YouTube

This is really fun. You can make your own natural paint brushes from things you collect on a nature walk. Fallen pine needles, branches, grass, even the bark that sheds from the birch tree can be used to make interesting and fun paint brushes. Try to encourage them to paint nature. Some suggestions are butterflies, pine cones, or that neighbor who never moves from his front porch.

I would also suggest painting outside. That way you can do it without laying down a not-so environmentally friendly plastic sheet. (And because you can hose down your kid afterward.)

3Make A Bird Feeder

TheLittleWoodHouse on YouTube

Or squirrel feeder, because those little rodents are greedy. These paper towel roll or toilet paper roll bird feeders are made with honey or peanut butter and seeds, a string, and the roll. That's it. It's simple, eco-friendly, and the birds devour them. You can also close the sides and add mealworms after it dries if you're feeling extra earthy. (I'm not, but my girlfriend teaches elementary science and does this. She's brave.) This activity has an easy clean up, and it's great to watch and teaches kids about birds, reusing waste, and just how sticky honey is. (Pull their hair off their face for this. Trust me.)

4Make Your Own Tissue Paper Rainbow

WWLP-22News on YouTube

Do you remember how cool making tissue paper stained glass is? You can use this method or you can color coffee filters with washable marker or watercolor, position them on wax paper, and glue them down to construction paper or cardboard frames. I'm suggesting a rainbow or an earth, but you could do a bird or butterfly as well. Kids love this project, and using glue sticks makes it doable.

5Make Clay Leaf Prints

The Artful Parent on YouTube

Yes, you'll need to make the dough for these clay leaf prints, but that's half the fun for your kids. Also, you can collect the leaves, feathers, and shells needed to make this craft around your neighborhood. It gets you and your toddler out into nature, and once you make these, you can hang them around the house or fashion them into Christmas ornaments.

6Vegetable Stamp Painting

Reynolda House Museum of American Art on YouTube

This one does make a bit of a mess, but it's so much fun. Plus, you can use the scraps of your vegetables from dinner to make these fun vegetable stamp paintings. Just make sure to use non-toxic paint and you can paint on anything. As for my house, we're using all those old Amazon prime boxes that seem to have found their way into every corner of our house.

7Go To Ikea

Leon Neal/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Rainy day? Don't want to paint inside? Need a chest of drawers with a name you'll undoubtedly mess up? Go to Ikea. I'm not kidding. They're having a "Nature Day" event with a coupon for $25 off your purchase of $150 or more. They're also doing giveaways and nature (plants) workshops. There's also the meatballs and $1 frozen yogurt, which are always a hit with the toddlers. (And adults.)

8Collect Clothing Around The House For Donation

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Currently, I have a huge bag of clothing set to be donated. It's fun to get your kids involved. They can choose toys they no longer use, those pants that suddenly became two inches too short overnight, and, fingers crossed, their winter coat. (Come on, Spring!)

9Separate Recyclables

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Two birds, one stone. Teach your child the importance of recycling and get your chores done. Have fun with them rinsing out the bottles, stomping on boxes, and crumpling paper. Kids adore stomping on boxes. Just be sure to wear shoes; no one wants a paper cut.

10Nature Walk

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Take your little one out in the wild — within limits. Many communities have wilderness centers or nature trails with spots and activities specifically designed for toddlers. Alternatively, you could just go to the park and see what you find.

11Head To The Zoo

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Most metropolitan zoos in the United States are designed with a curriculum surrounding preservation. That means, most zoos do Earth Day up big. Tons of activities and events for the whole family.

12Bake Earth Day Cookies

Weelicious on YouTube

Make a huge batch of cookies from sustainable ingredients with a dough the kids can lick off their fingers (no raw eggs). These cookies from Weelicious are really good, and they freeze well, so you can keep them on-hand for playdates.

13Make An Earth Day Book

Helpful TV1 on YouTube

Got a whole bunch of extra handouts from school or old scrap paper? Make this adorable Earth Day garland and let them color and paint it. It teaches them how to reuse and let's them be creative.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.