This year’s Earth Day theme is “Protect Our Species,” and its mission is to raise awareness of the rapid rate of extinction and encourage people to change their habits and help advocate to reverse the effect.

According to an article published in Nature: The International Journal of Science, habitat destruction, exploitation and climate change are driving the loss of half of the world’s wild animal population. That’s in addition to other human activities - like deforestation, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides - that negatively impact plants and wildlife.

Why is it important to protect animal and plant species? All species - including humans - are interconnected and interact in unique ways that impact the planet and humanity. The extinction of a single species may affect the biological system that pertains to life and living things.

To celebrate Earth Day 2019, help students explore the underlying causes of endangered species and empower them to advocate for change. Below are a few activity ideas to help you get started:

1. Start a campaign

Create a school-wide campaign to raise awareness of endangered, vulnerable and threatened animals. Show examples of the species that are currently endangered, like the chimpanzee, black rhino and green turtle. Discuss some of the human activities and habits that have led to this, and provide solutions to help protect the species.

For the campaign, you can create posters to place around the school, produce a public service announcement (PSA) video or even host a community event to spur students, educators and parents into action.

2. Explore environmental science

Endangered species are environmental issues, as destruction or interruption of the environment is one of the main reasons they are at risk. Environmental scientists, specifically endangered species biologists, are hard at work participating in genetic and ecological research and trying to better understand the threats these endangered species face.

Students can explore a career in environmental science to make a difference in the world. Invite professionals in the field to discuss their job and provide demonstrations of what they do. You can also check out When I Grow Up STEM Series Environmental Scientist to teach students how to observe, study and protect the environment. 

3. Discover the effects of water pollution

Water is often contaminated by human and industrial waste. This includes trash from city streets that flow into rivers and lead into the ocean as well as waste from landfills that blows into streams or directly into the ocean. Once in the ocean, the debris usually degrade slowly and remain in the water for years, which impacts ocean species and marine animals. In fact, there are about 150 endangered or threatened species living underwater, and those include species of sharks, whales, sea turtles and manatees.

Help students better understand water pollution and its effects with a simple science experiment. Simply pick up trash around the school (with gloves!), put it in a clear jar filled with water and watch the water over a couple of days. With this activity, they will get a small glimpse of what litter can do to our water.

Read How to Inform Students About Environmental Issues to Learn More

4. Create an organic vegetable garden

Pesticides used in farming can impact wildlife in a number of ways, including secondary poisoning, runoff into local water bodies, or groundwater contamination. They may also be sprayed directly or consume plants or prey that have been exposed to pesticides.

One way to reduce pollution due to pesticides is through organic gardening. This uses natural methods to grow the freshest fruits and vegetables. Check out the following resources and products to help students learn more about sustainable gardening:

You can also make a compost bin, which recycles leaves and plant materials to create natural, nutrient-rich soil for plants.

5. Promote recycling

Recycling is another way to cut down on the pollution that impacts wildlife on land and in the water. By promoting recycling, you can instill sustainable habits in students that allow them to protect the environment now and in the future. Check out this Recycling Zone activity to teach students how to properly recycle plastic, glass, paper and metal materials.

Check out our Pinterest board for more Earth Day activities for kids!