After realizing that she was not talking the talk as efficiently as walking the walk around her children, Enviro Girl knew she had to make more of an effort to connect the dots through discussion. Not in a preachy, pedantic way, mind you, but in a casual, “hey, look at this pile of food waste we’re carrying to our compost pile! That’s a LOT of waste we’re diverting from the landfill!” kind of way.
Fortuitously, Enviro Girl found herself in that same 3rd grade class the following week. That afternoon they cracked open their Scholastic News Weekly and read about Nike’s Reuse a Shoe program and two student views on the debate over banning plastic shopping bags. The “Yes” argument for banning plastic bags referenced the 3rd grade’s lessons about nonrenewable resources. The “No” argument mentioned using those plastic bags as garbage can liners and art project that require plastic shopping bags. Enviro Girl asked the students which side of the debate they agreed with.
Half the students felt plastic shopping bags were good! Enviro Girl was gobsmacked. She knew a few days ago they’d studied how oil was a nonrenewable resource and that plastic came from oil and that plastic shopping bags were wasteful. Why were they now telling her they liked keeping plastic shopping bags? She asked them, after paraphrasing the previous week’s lesson on renewable and nonrenewable resources.
Lightbulbs went on over the students’ heads. Aha! “Okay, so you guys remember that plastic bags are made out of oil, a ‘once and done’ kind of resource. Raise your hand if you think plastic shopping bags should be banned to help conserve this resource–you agree with the ‘Yes’ side of this debate.” All but one child raised their hand.
The students did not make the connections on their own. What Enviro Girl gleaned from this moment is that like renewable resources, our classroom conversations about the environment and related issues must happen more than once. We cannot offer children an afternoon assembly on not littering and feel we’ve covered pollution adequately. We have to circle back to these issues frequently, in proper context, and relate environmental education to the Big Picture.
(Oh, and Enviro Girl pointed out all the other ways people could find plastic bags for lining their garbage cans and making art projects. Trust her, she reassured the lone hold-out in the class, there are plenty of plastic bags to be found even if we deny ourselves plastic shopping bags. But that’s a topic for another post.)
On the back of Scholastic News Weekly the students had to read a graph explaining various items thrown away and breaking down how much got recycled and how much got placed in landfill. Again the class had an opportunity to discuss how we individually can reduce waste streams into landfills by recycling more. The students identified the process of recycling and items their households could recycle but didn’t.
All great persuasive arguments end with a Call to Action, so Enviro Girl broke the students into small groups and instructed them to brainstorm ways they could actively “save the planet.” The students listed things like “don’t litter,” “recycle more stuff,” and “bring your own bag.” Then each student created a poster for Earth Day, suggesting one or several ways people could actively “Save the Planet.”
Enviro Girl can see more opportunities here–reading books, picking up litter on the school yard, a recyclable materials scavenger hunt–to teach these 3rd graders how to identify wasteful uses of our natural resources and ways we can keep our planet cleaner. One or two lessons isn’t enough. A teacher could devise an entire unit or work environmental issues into the weekly rotation and incorporate writing, math, science and history with little effort.
Environmental education has to be integrated frequently and intentionally. Tell a kid not to litter and they’ll perceive another Rule to Obey. Make a kid clean up litter in a park or along a road and they’ll comprehend more fully why littering is problematic.
As parents and teachers we have to model an environmental ethic, explain the ethic and finally engage children in practicing the ethic so they can take ownership for themselves.
Tell the Eco Women: how do you model an environmental ethic, explain it and engage your children/students in practicing it? What suggestions do you have for incorporating an environmental ethic into family life or classroom?
In honor of Earth Day 2012, the Eco Women are giving away an assortment of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seeds to two winners. What better way to celebrate our Earth than by getting a little earth on our hands!
All you have to do to enter this giveaway is leave a comment on this post. You don’t have to say anything in particular, but feel free to tell us about a new eco action you’ve been trying or something you’d like for us to talk about here on this blog. This giveaway is open until noon on Earth Day, after which, we will randomly draw two names and contact the winners.
To learn more about Earth Day and what you can do to help Planet Earth, visit the official Earth Day website.