How to explain Earth Hour to kids

A group of people spelling out Earth Hour with sparklers against a dark sky on Vancouver Island, Earth Hour 2010, Canada.

Chicago will show its dark side on Saturday, and that’s a good thing. At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, The Willis Tower, Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel, the Hancock Center, the Chicago Board of Trade, Northwestern University and other buildings around the city will turn off the lights for one hour as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour.


They are flipping the switch to show support for taking action to fight climate change and protect nature.


This is the twelfth year Earth Hour has taken place and landmarks across the country are participating, including the Empire State Building, the Superdome and the Space Needle. (You can find a full list of participants here.)


As kids are known to do, they may ask a lot of questions. Here are some answers.


Why are the lights out?


There are millions of people around the city and the world who want to make sure that we take care of planet Earth because it’s our home. Turning off the lights for an hour is called Earth Hour. It’s a celebration of our planet and a time for us to think about what we can all do to help protect it. Turning off the lights saves electricity and water, and saving resources like that is good for the planet.


Who got to pick Earth Hour?


The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is an organization dedicated to conserving nature and taking good care of animals who live in nature around the globe, picked the time for Earth Hour. Taking care of the Earth is good for the animals, and this is one way the work to protect them.


If your little ones go to bed before 8:30 p.m., turn the lights out for an hour whenever you like, or go beyond the hour, declare it Earth Night and keep them off all evening. (It’s a great reason to get kids to unplug.)


There aren’t a lot of rules, just good intentions. The WWF encourages families to make the event their own.


So turning off the lights for a little bit takes care of the Earth?


Taking care of the Earth means everyone working together and doing the best job we can, and that means talking together. Earth Hour is a good time to get everyone talking and discussing what we can do for the environment.


Look at how dark the city is when everyone turns out the lights. It shows that lots of people doing something small like turning out the lights can have a big impact.


Should we turn off the lights every night then?


Nope, not necessarily. This is what’s called “symbolic gesture.”


We need to use electricity to get things done at night, and during the day, too. But if we are mindful about using electricity, water and other resources only when we need to and not using them or turning them off when we do not need them, that helps. We can be better about turning out the lights for a few minutes at a time, and eventually, that will add up.


Should I be worried about something happening to the earth?


The WWF says there are lots of reasons to be hopeful. Climate change is scary, but there are millions of people working want to stop it, and Earth Hour is one way we can join in.


Remind kids that they are safe right now, you’ll protect them, and that they are empowered to make a difference.


What are we supposed to do without electricity?


We can do lots of things!


With a few inches of snow in the forecast for Saturday for some parts of Chicagoland, going outside may be chilly, but if you’re feeling hardy, bundle up and head out to see who else has the lights out, look for the moon or build a snowman in the dark.


Have some fun and host an Earth Hour party. Invite friends over to play games, sing songs or just hang out by candlelight. (Battery-operated candles are the safest option around little ones.)


You can also keep things a little more low-key by building a pillow fort as a family and using a flashlight to read books (may we suggest “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss?), tell stories, look at photos or have a shadow puppet show.


Get a head start on your spring gardening by doing these indoor activities here by candlelight.


Another option is glow-in-the-dark bath time. Toss some colored glow sticks in the tub and get some glow-in-the-dark toys. Kids may just think Earth Hour should happen every day.


Talk as a family about caring for our resources. Point out that small actions like turning off the water when brushing teeth can save more than two gallons of water a minute. (Show them what a gallon looks like so they have an idea of what you mean.)  For teens who love long showers, explain that shortening their shower by just one minute can save more than 150 gallons each month, according to the Shedd Aquarium.


Ask kids what they think. Do they have ideas for how using less water as a family? Or how we can reuse something we typically throw away? (Find some tips for going green here.) You may be surprised by what they come up with.


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