Q: I'm a parent organizer of our elementary school's Earth Day celebration. This year the event falls during testing, so schoolwide activities are difficult to schedule. I want to send home activities, so parents can increase kids' awareness of their obligation to our planet. Any suggestions?
A: When the late Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson launched the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, it was called an "environmental teach-in" to raise awareness of the need for cleaner air and water. While the media focused on the day itself, he was more interested in a sustained effort. He wanted local leaders to schedule events that worked for their own schools and communities. That spirit still guides the celebration.
If testing falls on Earth Day (April 22), the folks at the Green Education Foundation have suggested celebrating National Green Week anytime from Feb. 2 through May 2. They provide free learning materials created by top educators and subject-area experts in fields such as green architecture and sustainable energy.
These lessons, projects and activities can be used for whole-school events, individual classrooms, families or youth groups, covering green themes such as Sustainable Transportation, Energy, Gardening, Waste Reduction, Sustainable Water and Green Building. Accompanying each theme you'll find recommended reading suggestions, sustainability tips and a challenge for young learners. Go to greeneducationfoundation.org.
You could combine your Earth Day and Arbor Day (April 24) celebrations. "It's important for kids to learn the important role of trees in our daily lives -- how they provide shade and wind breaks, cool our climate and clean our air -- and what care trees need to thrive," says Iowa garden writer and arborist Luke Miller. "Planting a tree that is suitable for your region offers enduring lessons. Choose a site easily accessible, so kids can water the tree and observe and measure its growth over time."
The Arbor Day Foundation offers a free downloadable Nature Explore Families' Club Kit with field-tested resources designed to help you organize a Families' Club at your school or in your neighborhood. The kit helps connect families with the outdoors and introduces them to a variety of natural spaces in the community. Go to natureexplore.org/families/FamiliesClub.cfm.
Award-winning children's nonfiction author Sandra Markle wants families to know that by participating in these activities, "they are really part of a powerful global movement."
She cites the work of SavingSpecies, which she calls "a great organization with worldwide efforts to save habitat and thus wildlife."
Markle mentions one activity the group is working on: "School groups in Brazil are involved in raising native trees from seeds to saplings and helping with a reforestation project that will help save golden lion tamarins, an endangered monkey." (Follow her research on this project at sandra-markle.blogspot.com.)
In addition, families can add high-quality books with environmental themes to bedtime reading. Ask your librarian for suggestions, or look for titles on these lists: the Green Earth Book Awards (Nature Generation); Growing Good Kids Book Awards (American Horticultural Society); Outstanding Science Trade Books (National Science Teachers Association); Excellence in Science Books (American Association for the Advancement of Science); Green Reads (PBS Parents); and the Riverby Award List of Nature Books for Young Readers (John Burroughs Association).
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)