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Connect, Explore, Engage with Earth Day: A Statewide Teach-In to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

On April 22, 1970, Gaylord Nelson hosted the first “national teach-in on the environment”—the founding of what is now a global movement known as Earth Day. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a school observance day also known as “Environmental Awareness Day.” This commemoration is deeply rooted in Wisconsin thanks to the man from Clear Lake, who was the state’s 35th governor and then U.S. senator.

The first Earth Day focused on engaging in environmental actions for the health of nature. During this global health emergency, going back to the roots where Earth Day began is pertinent. Gaylord Nelson’s childhood fostered a connection with the land:

There was a special adventure to being a young boy in northwestern Wisconsin. There was the adventure of exploring a deep green pine forest, crunching noisily through the crisp leaves and pine needles on a sharp fall day, or taking a cool drink from a fast-running trout stream or a hidden lake.

To honor this legacy, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction invites students, families, and schools across Wisconsin to connect, explore, and engage where they live.

Connect. Explore. Engage. These three strands weave together Wisconsin’s Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability. This month, you are invited to focus on connecting with perspectives, a sense of place, curiosity and wonder, and wellbeing. The mental health benefits of time spent in nature have been documented by countless naturalists, environmentalists, and conservationists as well as medical professionals. During this global health emergency, many of us are looking for a sense of calm, peace, and connection. We can find it in nature.

The DPI has teamed up with the state’s Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education, and the Wisconsin Green Schools Network to provide a series of posts on the newly launched EEK! Environmental Education for Kids website to support children’s wellbeing and connection to nature. Parents, caregivers, and educators can sign-up to receive additional resources. Educators who are helping students connect with Earth Day remotely are encouraged to add to our 50 Stories of Earth Day Celebrations map.

This month, be intentional with your connections. Sit outside and listen to birds. Allow time for unstructured nature play. Take a leisurely stroll.

If we focus on connection now, we not only respond to humanity's current needs of health and wellbeing, we also strengthen our relationship with nature and, in doing so, build an even stronger foundation for the next 50 years of Earth Day.

For more information on how to connect, explore, and engage—or to share your Earth Day story—visit or email

Subscriber Submission: Environmental Education and Service-Learning Consultant, Victoria Rydberg, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

For more resources, visit:

Wisconsin Green Schools Network’s Environmental Education for Kids:

Life and legacy of Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day:

Earth Day Story Map: