Earth Day is coming up! If you are like my students, you have enjoyed getting your hands dirty in community gardens or planting seedlings. You may have collected trash or created recycling bins for your congregation. These are wonderful foundational activities, but how do we keep Earth Day fresh and exciting as a learning opportunity for climate-conscious young people ready for more?
As technology advances, new climate issues have arisen this decade that are accessible and deeply relevant to young people. The popularity of “fast fashion,” inexpensive clothing meant to be disposable, is a genuine concern. Practicing sustainable fashion can be stylish and fun and lead to a wonderful youth group fashion show or photo shoot. Try repurposing thrift store clothing by painting or cutting it, learning simple sewing or patching techniques, and screen printing or adding patches and fringe to weathered jeans. Our students can grow practical skills through activities that are accessible with limited budget or time.
Students can get involved in youth activism by writing letters or postcards or creating drawings that can be sent or delivered to local legislators after learning about young climate justice leaders like Greta Thunberg. These letters can be wonderful letters to the editor and give children the thrill of experiencing their words in print! Read aloud, this is also great material for social media if your youth programs have an Instagram or Facebook page.
Prefer a plant-based activity? Consider a rain barrel for your congregation’s garden and learning about water conservation as well as planting flowers. Try a simple cooking activity to enhance planting your own vegetables or herb seedlings. Choosing indigenous pollinators over the classic sunflower can be a wonderful discussion opener about the history of native peoples. Working with nontoxic medicinal plants will show youth the easy healing properties of aloe for burns and mint for an upset stomach. Perhaps they would prefer a bee and butterfly garden to introduce science fun facts like the pollination cycle and preserving endangered species into the lesson. A popular craft for my congregation was the intergenerational building of a little free library that students stocked with used books, an item not always thought of first when considering re-use.
Whatever you choose, there are countless biblical stories of God providing through nature—not only the creation story from Genesis, but the retreat of Jesus into a quiet garden or the psalmist dreaming about the peace of still waters. Encouraging youth to cherish nature as a place to heal, connect with God, and experience God’s glory physically manifested is a powerful inspiration for faith. We are not only caretakers; we are ones who are loved and cared for. May your young people receive that love this Earth Day.