Earth Day isn't a holiday that kids start revving up for months in advance. No gifts are exchanged. Nobody gets cake. School isn't even canceled.
What's the point?
We turned to Angelique Dunning, the manager of youth and family programs at Morton Arboretum, for some answers.
Dunning said it's best to limit the "doom and gloom" stuff with kids and focus instead on fostering an appreciation for nature.
"You want to help them make that connection with the outdoors," she said. "They learn to be part of the solution and not just hear about the problems."
Around 4th or 5th grade, Dunning said, kids are ready to start processing concepts such as global warming and other environmental perils and are likely learning about them in school. But before then, she suggests keeping your focus positive—and narrow.
So instead of trying to teach your children to love "the outdoors," teach them to love trees. A trip to the Arboretum can show kids how trees work (from the heartwood that keeps them standing to the canals that transport water to the leaves); how we use trees (a shady respite from the sun, the makings of a baseball bat); and why animals need them (food, shelter).
"And of course it's important to see the physical trees," Dunning added. "To make bark rubbings, leaf rubbings, experience the different textures of the tree."
Other easy environmental entry points? Recycling. Fireflies. Bees. Gardening. Parents can pick one topic and run with it, which will hopefully spark a child's interest.
"I'm in the field of natural history and trees and habitats because I camped all over the country as a child," Dunning said. "You come to appreciate things when you have a chance to be hands-on."
Dunning said it's important, of course, to incorporate the hands-on learning year-round, not just on Earth Day. And that can mean something as simple as teaching your kids to conserve water.
"I like to tell kids, 'The water you're drinking right now might have been a drink for a dinosaur,' " she said. "Or maybe a dinosaur took a bath in it."
It's a way to teach about non-renewable resources, in a way that kids get.
"The water we use just keeps getting recycled," she said. "It's all we've ever had, it's all we'll ever get. We have to be aware of that."
Morton Arboretum offers a variety of programs and classes for kids and adults. Check out mortonarb.org for more information.
And if you are looking for an Earth Day present for your kid to open, Al Gore's book "An Inconvenient Truth," credited with launching global warming into the national conversation, is available in a young readers' version.
Touted as being "adapted for a new generation," the book is about a third as long as the original and is intended for 5th through 8th graders. (Visit amazon.com or algore.com to purchase a copy.) Maybe you can serve it with cake.