Next to Christmas and my birthday, my favorite day of the year is Earth Day!
I found out about it for the first time in college through a wonderful science methods professor that I had, Dr. John Beaver. Since then, I have always made a point to teach environmental awareness every day, but to also take time to celebrate Earth Day with some special activities.
Through the years of my teaching, we’ve cleaned up school grounds, planted trees, made landfill models and did a year long rainforest unit culminating in a giant replica rainforest with a fundraiser to save acres of the Amazon.
Now, more than ever, I feel the focus in classrooms (even those that are now virtual!) is on sustainability and alternative energy sources.
I am going to share some my top 5 ways to teach about the environment as well as what not to do.
- Start with the basics—teaching the 3R’s. The topics of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle have been around for as long as there has been Earth Day, and it is a great place to start. The difference I am seeing now is the focus on the 3R’s as being a hierarchy, with reducing our waste as the most important, then reusing items whenever possible, to finally recycling what is left. Recycling is extremely important, but really should be considered the last resort after reducing as much as possible and reusing what we can.
- Here are two of my favorite reuse projects using commonly found household items—toilet paper or paper towel tubes and bubble wrap.
- Toilet paper roll napkin rings—One way to reduce waste is to use cloth napkins that you can just wash and reuse many times and these napkin rings add to the festive look while also keeping the tube out of the trash. For these, I cut a standard toilet paper tube in thirds and wrapped with washi tape. You could use duct tape, scrapbook paper, or whatever you have on hand. And then I just slipped it on the napkin—easy peasy! These would look great on your dinner table tonight!
- Bubble wrap hopscotch–Use some leftover packaging from an online order (bubble wrap), a sharpie, and some painters tape to make this fun outdoor or indoor game. Cut the bubble wrap (if needed-some of mine was just the right size already) into squares. Turn it over to the flat side and use a Sharpie to draw the numbers—remember to draw them backwards so that when you turn it over they are going in the right direction! Once you are finished, tape it to your floor with painter’s tape or to your sidewalk with duct tape to prevent slipping or the board blowing away. My daughter put ours on the driveway. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was upside down! 1 should be closest and so on up to 10) Look up the rules online for how to play hopscotch and let your kiddos hop and pop away!
- Look for more fun ideas on my Instagram—(Your Teaching Mentor)
- Be a smart shopper! When I cleaned off our desk area to prepare for it to be my new online teaching space, I found a ton of old pens, markers, glue sticks etc. I organized them into cute bins so that when we need something we know right where it to find it and not rush out to the store to by another one. When the time comes to replenish items, make smart environmental choices—you can get pencils made from old blue jeans and pens made from recycled water bottles now.
- Watch videos or listen to songs to learn more about environmental issues. I found a fascinating video about how recycling is changing right now called “Why the United States Is Turning To Recycling Robots” You can find it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mxaN_xqQh4
I would say this is a good video for third grade on up. For the younger kiddos, Mr. Eco has lots of great songs/videos about important environmental concepts (also on YouTube).
- I am sure it is no surprise that my last suggestion is to read a book. There are tons of great new books out there that I need to check out but some of my favorites are:
- Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
- The Earth Trilogy (Touch the Earth, Heal the Earth, and Love the Earth) by Julian Lennon
- City Green, by DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan (This book inspired a huge inquiry project about recycling milk cartons in my class).
- Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child and Bridget Hurst
- 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World by Melanie Walsh
- Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Now that I have given you a start on how to celebrate Earth Day with your students, here’s what I wouldn’t do:
Send families links to print reams of paper for a recycling coloring book, or worksheets matching the trash to the right recycling bin.
While there is some educational value in some of these things, you are really just adding to the problem with these types of activities. If you want to teach kids about recycling, invite a local waste management person in to speak to the class (or now that we are virtual, see if they could join your Zoom or Google Meet).
If you want to them to know how sort trash, have them collect real trash from the playground or other area and sort it accordingly. I hope these ideas have given you some fun ways to think about Earth Day. For more ideas, check out my Instagram (especially the stories!) for more ideas!
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