Celebrate Earth Day with your family

Joanne 'Joey' Waters, a retired teacher and principal, has a passion for the planet and environmental education. Ashley Miller/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Joanne “Joey” Waters, a retired teacher and principal of 40 years, finds excitement in educating children on the importance of caring for their planet. Now, as a master gardener with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association, Waters uses her knowledge to educate not only children but adults on ways they can reduce waste, create butterfly gardens and stop climate change.

“One thing I also told my students when I was a teacher was that every day should be Earth Day. That’s a big thing,” Waters said. “We need to take care of our planet because in time it could possibly all disappear.”

Sunday is Earth Day, a day that brings together citizens and activists from around the globe to take action and raise awareness regarding environmental concerns including global warming, acid rain, waste disposal, ozone layer depletion and water pollution.

“Children understand far more than we give them credit for,” Waters said. “When we would talk about the ecosystem in the classroom, they wanted to know what would happen to the animals that lost their homes. They would gladly sort paper from plastic and metal, and walk proudly to the recycling center. They would even get their hands dirty in our vegetable gardens. All we have to do is educate them.”

Waters said a quote from her favorite children’s book “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss sums up her feelings toward the planet and is something she continuously shares with the community, “But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

As one of the planners for children’s events held by the master gardeners, Waters shared activities families and children can do together to celebrate Earth Day, including:

  • Read books and talk together about the Earth, conservation, gardening and wildlife.  Check out the local library; most will have Earth Day displays of books set out for readers. Two of her favorites include “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss and “How to help the Earth” by the Lorax.
  • Enjoy the outdoors together. Take a walk and observe plants, trees, birds and other creatures.
  • Help children become nature explorers and plan an outdoor scavenger hunt. Pack an explorer bag or backpack with supplies like a magnifying glass, binoculars, a container to collect leaves, rocks, even an insect to observe for a short time. A small notebook can be used as a nature journal where they can draw pictures and record things they see. There are lots of ideas for scavenger hunt online or create one with the children.
  • Children love to help recycle things. Let them sort the paper, plastic, glass, and metal that can be recycled. They can help take the recycle bin to the curb or to the local recycling center. Challenge the family to throw away less and recycle more.
  • Recycled materials are great fun to create with. Some glue, tape and craft paint are often all that is needed to let their imaginations go to work and some creative masterpieces to be built.
  • Plant something together. Children love to get their hands in the dirt and plant things. Start small with container gardening. One idea is to plant a salad bowl using a container that is at least 6 inches deep and has a drainage hole in the bottom. Be creative and recycle something for the container.
  • Welcome butterflies by planting butterfly-friendly plants. Some of those include zinnias, petunias, marigolds, cosmos, verbena and butterfly weed.
  • Create a watering station for butterflies. Any shallow pan or saucer will do. Add some small pebbles, a larger rock or two and some sand. Butterflies love fruit too, so add a piece of orange, apple or other fruit. Observe and see what happens.
  • Ask children if they know the Virginia state wildlife and plat symbols. Check out State Symbols USA for pictures and information. Be on the lookout for those on nature walks or in the backyard.
  • Sign up for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardener Association Newsletter, which is published quarterly and provides gardening information and lists of upcoming events.