Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Every Day Should Be Earth Day!"

A lot can be learned from the pure, enthusiastic exclamations of a three-year old.

Environmental Education can be a rather heady topic. From someone who's been required to sit through hour upon hour UPON HOUR of workshops on Global Warming, Pollution, Consumerism, Extinction, etc, etc,... I can attest to the fact that the subject is usually presented in an earnest tone that can feel, um... superdepressing. After listening to a lecture on the sad state of our planet's health, I'm not really inspired to wash my dishes with lemon slices. And I certainly do NOT have the energy to walk or bike home. All I want to do is take a bath (yes, an evil water-hogging BATH) and go to bed.

While fear and guilt are (strangely) excellent motivators for many adults ("Recycle your apple sauce container or we will all be dead by 2027!!!"), when working with children, and with preschoolers in particular, such tones & techniques are not an option. This makes my "non-dog job" (teaching preschool environmental education classes) reallyreally great; I have to (get to!) think outside of the box, and approach ultraserious issues from a creative, friendly perspective which puts emphasis on one thing and one thing alone: simply kindling curiosity; instilling a sense of wonder in the natural world. Feeling an intimacy with nature creates a unique, unforced and valuable sense of that flows purely from joy. This is true for both children and adults. The best way to save the planet? ...just go outside. Make a commitment to spend some time outdoors every single day.

These are some of my favorite child-oriented, "little kid" outdoorsy activities you can do together in your own backyard:

Reading (instead of plopping down on the sofa, grab a huge old blanket and pillows and head for the lawn. Get some animal puppets to stand in as guest storytellers. Give them silly accents. Lady the London Ladybug is very popular...)

Eating (lazy weekday picnics trump busy weekend BBQs.)

Bug Hunting (...with bug boxes & careful fingers. Count legs. Official insects have six legs. Notice colors, shapes, and sizes. What do they eat? How do they move? What sounds do they make? Hey Little Ant is a great pre-k prep book for smush-obsessed little ones; talk about how ants have families, too. )

Tree Hugging Walks (notice the texture of bark, see how it varies from tree to tree. Pick your favorite tree. Give him or her a name. Draw a picture or take a photo to frame. Say hi whenever you pass your tree on future walks.)

Nature Theme Walks (put on your "owl eyes" and pick something specific to look for on your walk: the color yellow, birds, flowers etc. WARNING: a roly poly walk may take you two hours and you might only travel a few feet away from your front porch.)

Sensory Walks (put on "your rabbit ears" and listen for mysterious sounds, and try to figure out what made them. Use your "raccoon paws" to look for "bumpy things" or "smooth things," or use your "coyote noses" to find some "things that smell.")

Mystery Touch Bags (put one item like a feather, leaf, toy car, small book, etc. in a non-see-through "touch bag" and let your child feel inside and try to guess what the mystery item is by using their sense of touch only. Try a few different items, one at a time.)

Animal Walk Walks (move like a bunny, then move like a snake, then move like a bird...)

Animal Hokey Pokey (focus on the body parts of one critter, and then put your squirrel tail in, or your fish fins out... etc.)

Butterfly Walks (make some butterfly wings or coffee filter butterflies. Fly from flower to flower. Why do you think butterflies are always hanging out on flowers?)

Leaf Man Making (prep with the book The Leaf Man and create leaf moms, dads, kids, or critters. Give them names. Talk about where they might travel.... and be prepared for really fun answers. Take a picture and then go back the next day to see if the leaf creature is still hanging around... or has already begun traveling.)

Hide and Seek

Kite Flying

Water/Sand Table Fun (equip with measuring cups, spoons, droppers. Use food coloring in the water sometimes. Discover how some colors can combine to make other colors. Switch out sand for textured solids like pasta, rice, etc.)

Flotation Testing (gather several small items and head for a pond, pool, water table, sink, or bath tub. Test each item one by one, and discover what floats and what sinks. )

Measurement Concept Experimentation (use a natural item like a twig or leaf, and use it measure different things around you... "my dump truck is three twigs tall... my foot is one twig long" etc. Make simple comparisons by asking which of two items is smaller, or larger.)

Backyard Overnight Camping (Pitch a tent and sleepover as a family.)

Sidewalk Chalk Drawing

Mud Finger Painting (another HUGE favorite.)

Puddle Splashing

Bubble Blowing

Leaf Pile Play (rake, then jump & crunch.)

Garbage Monster Making (create creatures using "trash" type materials like old clothing, scrap paper, broken plastic from toys, etc. The Book The Garbage Monster is great prep. What is trash, exactly? This book talks about the difference between trash, recyclables, and reusables. Plus, kids just love monsters! Teachers can get great materials for art projects like this from Trash For Teaching. )

Reusable Sound Shakers (fill an empty bottle, can, or box with natural items like seeds, twigs, rice, or beans, to create an instrument. Decorate with markers, etc. Shake it to some animal-themed songs... "The Zebra Dance", by Jungaliah Jones is ideal.)

Shelter Building (use branches, etc... like on survivor.)

Pet Rock/ Gnome Stones (paint a smooth medium/large river rock. Will he need eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth? Name him or her, and put your pet rock in the garden to help keep the plants company.)

Nest Making (use the natural materials on the ground. Talk about the kind of bird that would like your nest... a big bird, a small bird? Why do you think nests are round?)

Painting (use an easel & different brushes, sponges... try painting with natural tools like sticks, feathers, etc.)

Imaginary Painting (use a paintbrush and plain water and have your kids paint absolutely anything they want... benches, swings, the fence, the sidewalk...!)

Shadow Hand Puppets

Gopher Tunneling (also fun inside on rainy days. Gather together large cardboard boxes and line them up so they make a tunnel. Pretend you are an underground animal; a gopher, groundhog, a worm, or a snake.)

Star Gazing

Spider Serenading (if you spot one, stop to sing them the Itsy Bitsy song.)

Plant Seeds (and monitor the growth. What do plants need to grow? What do we need to grow?)

Grow Vegetables (then prepare them together for eating. Mash potatoes, use hands to mix salad, put marinades in ziplock bags and shake, etc. Eating what you've grown is fun, and being a part of the cooking process can suddenly make icky veggies taste yummy... great for picky eaters.)

Garden Hand Print Stepping Stones (create a plaster stepping stone featuring your child's hand prints. Push in marbles as a decorative mosaic frame.)

Bird Feeder Making/Watching (hang one somewhere where you can spy on the birds from an inside window. Keep a pair of pretend binoculars nearby.)

Pretend Binocular Spying (create these versions for walks, spying, etc. using toilet paper rolls taped together & decorated with markers, etc.)

Nature Investigating (pass out magnifying glasses and broadly announce that they should "look for clues...")

Lady Bug Releasing (take a trip to your local nursery and buy a family of (native, please) ladybugs to release in your backyard. Explain how ladybugs help the garden.)

Sun Tea Brewing (I like to use a caffeine-free mint tea, add a little sugar, and set it out all day in a clear jar in the sunshine. You can also have your child help wash fresh mint (that you've purchased at the store, or better yet, grown in the garden) and add that to the jar. Check in to notice if the color of the tea changes over time... is the jar getting warm?)

There are endless things to do outside, and a great part of it all is that most of these things are free, too! Instead of investing lots of money on plastic toys and stuff that runs on batteries, it's easy (and fun!) to invest in helping nurture your child's connection to the natural world :)

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." ~Rachel Carson, the world's most superawesome ecologist ever-ever-ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome list you put together!