Earth Day the toddler way

With Earth Day approaching, you might be wondering how to involve your toddler in the ecological discussion. They are old enough now to enjoy some Earth Day events, participate in eco-friendly habits such as recycling, and even start to see that their world goes beyond your finished basement.

“Now wait, Jen,” some of you might say, “we already compost, shop consignment, bike to work, grow organic vegetables. What more do you want?”

Others might cringe at the very mention of Earth Day.

You recycle modestly and you’ve considered going hybrid with your next vehicle, but you’re wary of the judgment that comes along with discussion of your family’s footprint. You’re not so sure you want to hear about what you “should” be doing to inspire ecological thoughtfulness in your 2-year-old.

 There’s no need to get stressed out or self-scrutinizing about the ways in which you might celebrate Earth Day with your children. Think about what sounds fun, doable and — most important — right for your family’s temperament.

Because toddlers are still, for the most part, optimistic, this probably isn’t the time to go all out doom and gloom with a discussion of global warming. No. Save the Al Gore flick for the teenage years when you just don’t feel like handing over the car keys for the night.

Of course, the best way for a toddler to start thinking ecologically is through exploration.

With a toddler it makes sense to start small. Helping with the recycling is great, as is making art out of reusable products — toilet paper rolls, clean foil, bottle caps, you name it. Your child will love finding stuff around the house or heading down to Artscraps in St. Paul — an innovative store that combines waste management with craftiness. The place is filled with unique recyclables, overstock, scraps and other landfill fodder. Again, save your “the world is ending speech” for another time and — if the opportunity arises — engage in a lighthearted chat with your little earthling about how reusing helps the things he loves. Flowers, owls, fireflies, the lake up by Grandma’s.  You can start in your own backyard — digging for worms, smelling flowers, rolling in the grass and touching the trees. 

Additionally, Minnesota has about 70 state parks stocked with walking trails and wildlife. 

Get out there and enjoy, with no judgment about the depth of the woods you explore or the level to which you are happy to get your hands dirty. Just get out there. Even the most metropolitan Minnesota parent feels a sense of relief and calm when momentarily trading concrete for greenery. You’ll also enjoy the added benefit of a well-worn toddler at bedtime. Fresh air and exercise is magical in that sense.

As for the big day? Earth Day falls on a Tuesday this year and you’ll find plenty to do across the state throughout that week. Most cities and parks have organized clean ups — totally doable for a toddler. 

For family festivals and activities look to Como Zoo’s Party for the Planet, Growing Green Babies in Edina or Midtown Global Market’s Earth Day Celebration, to name a few. 

Organized crowds not your family’s thing? Spend the day at a place that’s “earthy” year round. Dodge Nature Center, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, or even one of our national forests will do the trick.

Toddlers (usually) like to try new things. They enjoy learning and helping out. Go with that, get outside and don’t take it all too seriously. 

Moving away from the gadgets and toys mindfully, even for a limited time, will cultivate your little one’s first love story with the earth. No judgment, no demands, just a little love.


Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is the mother of two. She's helped many Twin Cities families in her work as a postpartum doula. 
Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.