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Throw a Party for the Planet – That Gives Back!

Five ways your family can celebrate Earth and pay it forward – from repurposing kids old books to fun focus on endangered species

Our kids will be living on this earth long after we're gone, so they should learn to care for it. And what better way to make them eco-aware than to throw a party for the planet? Whether it's in April, home of Earth Day, or any time of the year, making a difference can be all in a day's fun with one of these party options.

Red-light, green-light

The facts: If each American family replaced just one light bulb with a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, we'd save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year and reduce greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars. Big bonus: CFLs last up to 10 times longer and each saves about $30 in lifetime electricity costs (learn more at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star site).

The fun: Have a twilight potluck block party and green-up the neighborhood, too. Purchase a case of Energy Star-approved CFL bulbs at a discount or home supply store. (A box of 48 bulbs costs around $80.) Ask each family to purchase one or more energy-efficient bulbs and head home to green-up their porch lights before dark. Bask in the earth-friendly glow while you get to know the neighbors.

Pay it forward: At night's end, donate proceeds from light bulb sales (and any additional donations) to a southeast Michigan nature center. Ask $5 per bulb, and you'll cover your costs and donate $160.

Read it again!

The facts: Schools in affluent areas spend 56 percent more per student than schools in poor areas. That means many kids' classrooms don't have bulging bookshelves to entice young readers and support teachers' lesson plans. Recycling reading materials is earth-friendly and oh-so-easy.

The fun: Host a bookish bash for your kids and their friends. Invite pajama-clad partiers of all ages to bring books they've outgrown, and get several goofy grownups to read kids' favorites aloud. Use your silliest voices and outrageous props to make this a story time to remember.

Pay it forward: When the party's over, donate guests' well-loved books to First Book. This community-building charity sends needed books to under-resourced kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms across America.

Make a splash

The facts: The oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface and contain 97 percent of its water, but they're under threat. Pollution and over-fishing destroy the habitats of many marine species, and some types of whales, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and sharks are endangered. Plus, global climate changes mean rising water levels and temperatures.

The fun: Screen the Discovery Channel hit Blue Planet (or another ocean-related documentary) at a water-themed celebration. Kids and parents will have a whale of a time eating ocean-inspired treats while they view exhilarating underwater documentary footage. Serve goldfish crackers and gummy sharks or make starfish sundaes – or decorate small, star-shaped sugar cookies with colored sprinkles and stick 'em on ice cream "rocks."

Pay it forward: In lieu of ticket sales, collect donations. Send them to the Ocean Conservancy, a marine-wildlife rescue (such as the Sea Turtle Restoration Network) or a local waterways or wetlands preservation project.

Save a species

The facts: Biologists estimate more than 500 plants and animals have become extinct in our country since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. While extinctions do occur naturally, the current rate of extinction is about 1,000 times higher than it was before humans appeared on Earth. Find out which animals are endangered in Michigan on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site.

The fun: Choose an endangered animal that excites your kids – how about bats, frogs, birds or wolves? – and throw a save-the-species soiree. Let kids decorate with animal pictures and fun facts they find online or at the library. Plan games and activities around your animal theme or get a long sheet of butcher paper and let the kids paint a mural depicting the endangered guest of honor.

Pay it forward: Collect donations from guests to send to a related charitable organization. Need ideas? Consider the American Bird Conservancy or the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Flutter by, butterfly

The facts: Butterflies are beautiful and fragile indicators of ecosystem health. They pollinate wild plants and agricultural crops, ensuring animals and people have food to eat. And butterflies themselves are a valuable source of food for songbirds (learn more at the Woodland Park Zoo site).

The fun: Plan and plant a butterfly garden at your school or in your neighborhood. Pick a sunny spot and let kids dig in the dirt and plant flowering nectar sources like asters, cornflowers, dogbane, goldenrod and zinnias. Be sure to include plants that provide food for butterfly larvae, too (clover, milkweed and passion vine are good options). Place several large flat rocks in the garden, so the butterflies can sun themselves after feasting, and add a watering hole for thirsty guests.

Pay it forward: Plan a monthly or quarterly butterfly garden party to clear out debris, plant new flowers, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Strong community ties are good for you, your kids and the planet we call home.

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