Earth Day 2014: Inspiring a new generation of stewards

There is no power for change greater than a child
discovering what he or she cares about.

Seymour Simon
April 22, 2010
Earth Day 40th anniversary

Prolific nonfiction writer and Earth advocate Seymour Simon creates books that inspire young readers to care for our planet.  Tomorrow, a new generation of stewards will celebrate Earth Day — in parks, classrooms, gardens, libraries, homes —  all around the world.  I’d like to share some powerful resources teachers use to make Earth Day come alive for students and their families:  1) books that motivate middle-grade readers to take action for the environment, 2) how families can support students’ learning, and 3) resources to keep Earth Day “blooming” all year long.

Books about environmental stewardship
So many great books about caring for our world, it’s impossible to list them all!  So I’ve selected six titles that teacher colleagues recommend to provoke middle grade students’ thinking about and active engagement with the environment.

 Global Warming by Seymour Simon.  Earth’s climate has always varied, but it is now changing more rapidly than at any other time in recent centuries. The climate is very complex, and many factors play important roles in determining how it changes. Why is the climate changing? Could Earth be getting warmer by itself? Are people doing things that make the climate warmer? Award-winning science writer Seymour Simon teams up with the Smithsonian Institution to give you a full-color photographic introduction to the causes and effects of global warming and climate change. (Indiebound description)

Water Dance by Thomas Locker.  Travel with author-illustrator Thomas Locker and follow our planet’s most precious resource–water–on its daily journey through our world. (Indiebound description)

 

 Earth’s Garbage Crisis by Christine Dorion. This non-fiction text  focuses on the amount of garbage in the world. It explains the causes of the problem, but then provides actions and programs that are in place today that people are trying to get involved in to help this cause. It also prompts the reader to take action in his/her own community. (Teacher, Faith Kim description)

 

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter. A picture book based on the true story of Wangari Maathai, an environmental and political activist in Kenya and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. (Indiebound description)

 Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays by Molly Bang.  The story of Dianne Wilson, a Texas shrimper, who took on the EPA and the big factories in her town to clean up the bay. She faces a number of hardships in this quest. We will use her story to talk about how anyone can become a good steward of the environment, and what resources help people make a difference. (Teacher, Andrea Kunz description)

boywhoharnessed
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba; ill. by Elizabeth Zumba.  The true story of William, a boy in Malawi who builds a windmill to give his village clean power, and save them from a devastating drought.  William is only a child, whose parents can no longer afford to send him to school, but he also finds a way to make a difference, proving that anyone can be a good environmental steward, if they have what counts on the inside. (Teacher, Andrea Kunz description).

Earth Day at home: Families as learning partners
Learning can be more meaningful and powerful when teachers connect the classroom to issues that directly affect students’ and their families’ lives.  Here are some strategies that middle-grade teachers have used to enlist families in deepening their students’ learning related to the environment.  Two examples below illustrate how families partnered with students to help them consider varied perspectives on environmental issues and to create a concrete action plan of things they can do together at home to help the environment.

1.  Critical thinking about complex issues.  During her unit on environmental stewardship, middle school science teacher, Andrea Kunz pushed her students to consider a range of complex issues that came up as they read and discussed books and articles.  To deepen students’ thinking, she asked them to take these issues home and gather insights and perspectives from their families:

Week 1: Do Humans Help or Harm the Environment?  For the next several weeks, students will be reading and writing about the impact that humans have on their environment.  This is a topic that many people have different opinions about, so to get started, we wanted to involve you in the conversation. This week, we are asking the question: 
Are humans mostly to blame for our environmental problems, or are they solving more environmental problems than they cause?
Talk about this idea with your student: what are your ideas?  What are theirs?  What reasons or events have influenced your thinking?

Week 2: Making A Difference, Taking A Stand
  This week, we are looking at different people who have made a positive impact on their communities by trying to solve a problem in their local ecosystem or environment. There are many ways that people can make a difference, in many areas of life, not just the environment. 

When was a time you stood up for something you thought was wrong?  What happened? 

This is an opportunity for you to share your own experience, so that your student can see that many people can make a difference, or that sometimes we try hard to make a difference and it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will.  Tell your student your story! 

2.  Creating and enacting an environmental stewardship plan. Intermediate teachers Maria Smith and Stuart Potter created family activities that would build students’ understanding of concrete actions they could take to make a difference in the environment.  They started with a simple web of stewardship ideas that each student generated with someone at home.  Students then enlisted family members to help create an Environmental Stewardship Idea/Action Plan for their home. Finally, students led their families in carrying out one idea from their plan over a two-week period.

Resources to keep Earth Day blooming all year!

Finally, two (among the countless multitudes of) excellent online resources on Earth Day and environmental stewardship:

Authors for Earth Day: Supporting conservation through literacy.  A coalition of children’s authors who actively promote reading, writing, and learning about the environment.  The growing list of authors includes MUF’s own Yolanda Ridge!  Check out the A4ED blog to learn more about the authors and their projects.

The Nature Generation An environmental nonprofit that “inspires and empowers youth to make a difference. We reach our nation’s youth through innovative environmental stewardship programs in literature, science and the arts.”  Sponsors of the Read Green initiative to get “environmental books into the hands of children.”  Look into the short list for the 2014 Green Earth Book Awards (winners will be announced tomorrow on Earth Day, so come back soon!).

My thanks to author, science advocate, and environmental inspiration Seymour Simon for his life’s work on behalf of young readers and their world. And heartfelt thanks to the teacher colleagues who generously shared their book and teaching ideas on building strong environmental stewards in honor of this 44th Earth Day:  Andrea Kunz, Maria Smith, Stuart Potter, Hilary Mayfield, and Faith Kim!

 

Katherine Schlick Noe teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. Her debut novel, Something to Hold (Clarion, 2011) won the 2012 Washington State Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award for middle grade/young adult and was named a 2012 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.  Visit her at http://katherineschlicknoe.com.

 

Katherine Schlick Noe

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