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Me and My World-Teaching Sustainability to Young Children

A greater focus has been placed on our environment in recent years. We hear the terms sustainability, climate crisis, global warming, carbon footprint, hazardous waste, greenhouse effect, and more…all aimed at raising awareness. Some of these topics can seem confusing even for adults; so, how do we teach young children about these concepts in a way that they can understand?

Sustainability is an abstract concept, but it is really just a collection of good practices. It is important to involve children in activities in nature to make caring for the environment a natural part of their lives, and at the same time, bring their impact to the forefront.

Incorporating a project approach in early childhood is an appropriate way to emphasize sustainability fundamentals. This method helps young children develop a personal connection to their own actions. Early Childhood Professor and researcher Lillian Katz found it most beneficial to nurture the intellectual development in young children, rather than focusing solely on academic development. Intellectual development focuses on reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, and analyzing ideas. A project based approach encourages young children to make the best sense of their experiences and their environment. It allows them to see the purpose of their efforts (Katz, 2001).

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With these tenets in mind, fellow Apple Distinguished Educator and Early Years teacher Marc Faulder and I co-wrote a 3 book Young Children Can Create series focused on increasing environmental awareness for young children. These are teacher guides with step-by-step directions for students.

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The first book is Plants. Using an iPad, students work through a series of creative activities involving drawing, photography, video, and music across ELA, Math, Social Studies and Science. Student work for all three books is collected in a digital learning journal.

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Here is a sample page from the drawing section:

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Students learn the importance of plants and the plant life cycle. The iPad activities allow for content creation and sharing. I will discuss the other two books in future posts. Take a look and see what you think!

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