Activities & Lessons
Earth Day—celebrated every year on April 22—is a special holiday, as it allows us to honor our home planet and reminds us how connected we indeed are, despite our differences.
The annual holiday is a big deal at HMH, as it should be across the planet. In fact, according to HMH Archivist Susan Steinway, two of our authors had an indirect hand in the holiday’s creation!
It’s never too early to get your students thinking about the steps they can take—however big or small—to improve our current conditions on Earth. You never know if you have a budding environmentalist in your class who could make significant environmental changes in the future. Incorporate the free Earth Day activities for elementary students below in your in-person or remote classroom.
Earth Day Activities for Elementary School Students
1. Backyard Scavenger Hunt
Let your students explore the outdoors—perhaps in their backyard or a neighborhood park—to see what they can find. How many squirrels will they see dashing by? Can they spot anything recyclable? Let them draw their favorite discoveries once they arrive back inside. Coloring the pictures on the worksheet is optional but encouraged!
2. Earth Day Expressions
Want to get your students excited about saving our planet? Let them express themselves by writing and performing an Earth Day song or rap. For example, these two teachers filmed a rap video that educates students about the holiday’s importance. Challenge your kids to write educational lyrics that speak to issues such as climate change, pollution, deforestation, or water scarcity. If your students are poets at heart, let them compose a poem instead. The following poems are excellent examples:
- “Earth Day” by Jane Yolen
- “Remember” by Joy Harjo
- “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier (after Wallace Stevens)” by Craig Santos Perez
Afterward, give students the chance to perform or explain the meaning of their writing.
3. Play a Recycling Game
Motivate your students to recycle—with this game! Recycling is a simple way for kids to make an impact. Teaching this practice sooner rather than later will hopefully ensure that young children continue the habit as they get older. This activity will have students guess whether items such as a tin can, envelope, or an apple are recyclable. If this sounds like tons of fun, download the activity below and conduct it in person or while teaching remotely. After finishing the game, have students think about other everyday items (besides those used in the game) they can recycle or reuse.
4. Poster Project
Earth Day poster projects for elementary students allow kids to learn about more pressing environmental issues. You can have your students brainstorm the topics that matter to them the most, such as cleaning up the neighborhood, saving the bees or rainforests, water pollution, or global warming. Then, have your students create posters using recyclable products or items found outdoors to spread awareness of environmental issues impacting humanity. They have plenty of objects and materials to choose from, such as pebbles, leaves, twigs, acorns, seeds, feathers, shells, cardboard, old mail and magazines, and bottle caps.
After they develop their design ideas, help them pick out slogans to add to their posters. Here are some examples: Save Our Home, Plant a Tree, Earth Day is Every Day, and Keep Earth Clean.
5. Trek through Nature
There are plenty of benefits to spending time in nature, such as escaping city noises, getting fresh air and natural sunlight, and boosting one’s self-esteem and mood. Nature walks can also develop observational skills. In this Earth Day activity, your students will go on a nature walk, focus on one particular item (for example, a flower, tree, insect, etc.), and take part in a discussion based on their observations. They can do this in person while adhering to local social distancing rules or over the weekend as an assignment and virtually share their discoveries.
6. Bring the Outdoors Inside
Let your students explore the natural wonders of our Earth—without ever leaving their homes! This virtual tour from The Nature Conservancy takes the audience across the planet—from Phoenix, Arizona, to Shenzhen, China—while addressing the effects of climate change and how this issue is tackled in their communities.
Cities worldwide are mixing urban life with nature. Examples include Seoul’s Skygarden in South Korea and the High Line in New York City. Virtual field trips of Kew Garden’s Temperate House in London, England, and the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. let your students learn about similar ways other cities incorporate nature into their urban planning. Ask your students: what are different ways humans can unite our natural environments and urban landscapes? Dive in and have fun!
7. Upcycle Crayons
Craving an Earth Day art project? This activity teaches kids about upcycling by having them melt their used crayons into new crayons. Adult supervision is a must! This project is ideal for kids who have quite a few broken crayons lying around.
Melted Crayons Project
What You Need:
- Used crayons
- Cookie-cutter shapes or silicone molds (round, square, star, butterfly, flower, pineapple, etc.)
- Muffin tin or clean aluminum can (such as a soft drink can) with the top cut off
- Warming tray or electric fry pan
What to Do:
- Peel wrapper off crayons and break them into smaller pieces. (Tip: For a faster melt, use crayon shavings. To shred crayons, use a pencil sharpener or a grater with adult supervision.)
- Add the broken crayons to a muffin tin or aluminum can.
- Place the muffin tin or the aluminum can on a warming tray or into a water-filled electric fry pan set for low heat. Note: Crayons can melt at different rates. If needed, use a small wooden spoon or stirring stick to stir the crayons.
- After the crayons have melted, gently pour the crayon wax into the cookie-cutter shapes.
- Leave cookie-cutter shapes undisturbed. Once the wax has cooled and hardened, pop off the cookie cutters and voilà. New crayons for coloring!
For more crayon-related arts and crafts projects, check out these activities.
8. Read, Watch, Discuss
Get your students reading about the wonders of our environment and the actions scientists and others have taken to protect our home. Then, have a class discussion with your students about the materials they read. The following list includes books for K–5; however, explore the internet to see what other Earth-related literature you can find.
- The Earth and I by Frank Asch
- Our Earth by Anne Rockwell
- Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places by Joseph Bruchac and Thomas Locker
- The Polar Bear Scientists by Peter Lourie and Susan Ramer
- Curious George Discovers Recycling by H. A. Rey
- My Little Garden by Katrin Wiehle
- Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
- Bradford Street Buddies: Springtime Blossoms by Jerdine Nolen and Michelle Henninger
- Just Grace Goes Green by Charise Mericle Harper
- Listen to the Desert/Oye al Desierto by Francisco Mora and Pat Mora
Alternatively, you can watch two episodes from the web series Carmen Sandiego: Fearless Kids Around the World with your students, featuring kids on a mission to help their communities. “Protecting the Rain Forest” spotlights Pablo Cavanzo, a teenager who took action to protect the Amazon in his home country of Colombia. And “Saving the Wildlife in Africa” covers how Richard Turere, who lives in a farming community in Kenya, came up with an idea to keep farmers from killing lions.
After watching, have your students share their thoughts. Ask them: what actions are these kids taking to protect the rainforest or wildlife in their home countries? Think of other questions to ask your students to get them pondering about the steps they could take to protect the environment in their community and worldwide.
How Do You Celebrate Earth Day?
How do you honor Earth Day in your classroom and get your students thinking about the various ways they can do good for their communities and the environment? Do you clean up a local park or play Earth Day games for elementary students? Share your thematic lesson plans and activities with us via email at email@example.com or reach out on Twitter (@HMHCo) or Facebook.
For more ways to celebrate Earth Day with your students, check out these classroom activities.
Looking for hands-on science lessons and activities for Grades K–5? Explore HMH Into Science, a phenomena-based science solution.