Going Green Practices for Child Care Programs

Adopting environmentally sustainable practices is a wonderful way to model and teach children about being a good steward of the planet. Slowly adopting new principles and making changes to existing practices will likely be more successful than trying to change too many things all at the same time. Involving the children in your program and their families will help them have ownership of the changes, and hopefully inspires them to make similar changes in their homes.

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The “Going Green Checklist” (see below) is not meant to be a judgment about how you conduct your program, but rather as a way to reflect on what you currently do, identify one or two strategies to add, and to think about how you would like your program to be in the future.

Often teachers in larger child care centers or public schools may have little decision making power for large scale changes, but can make powerful small changes in their own classrooms. It is better to think of the grand sum of little changes, than to take on an overwhelmingly large task at first. Build off of the successes, even if it’s just teaching children to take one paper towel instead of five to dry their tiny hands! The slow but steady approach often creates lasting changes in a program because the changes become daily routines.

We can teach our children about caring for the planet through a range of rich opportunities, reading a wide selection of books on the topic throughout the year, and by creating hands on learning experiences about nature and the environment. This is not a one week experience in the month of April when it’s “Earth Day”, but rather a yearlong integrated theme that is woven into the curriculum and daily routines. It is through simple daily practices that we implement in our classroom that we can meaningfully show to both children and families. Through educating our children and modeling green practices, they will grow up knowing how to care for the Earth. It will be their love of the planet that propels them to care for it.

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Going Green Checklist

  • As plastic toys are replaced, substitute natural materials or toys made from recycled materials
  • Books about the environment are in the classroom library
  • Children bring reusable water bottle from home
  • Communicate with families about environmentally sound practices
  • Compost food scraps
  • Conservation activities done within the community
  • Daily outdoor time in nature
  • Discuss current environmental issues with children in an age appropriate way (such as drought, new recycling laws, keeping rivers clean)
  • Eco Art projects are part of the program as a way to talk about reusing and re-purposing unwanted materials
  • Eliminate paper plates and plastic utensils
  • Energy audit is conducted for the program
  • Grow plants indoors year-round as way to clean the air & teach children to care for plants
  • Growing a green wall to create a living garden in minimal space
  • Locally produced materials are used; teach how these materials do not require fuel to be shipped, and supports the local economy
  • Lower consumption of energy (lights off when we leave the room; less lights on when sunshine brightens the room)
  • Lower consumption of water (encourage quicker hand washing; use a rain barrel to water the outdoor garden)
  • Make recycled paper and discuss how paper comes from trees
  • Non-toxic “green” cleaning supplies
  • Non-toxic furnishings, wall paint, and floor coverings
  • One paper towel to dry hands
  • Organic local food served as majority of meals and snacks
  • Participate in Earth Day; or “Green Up Day” if you are lucky enough to be a Vermonter
  • Philosophy of “No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”
  • Purchase reusable plates, bowls, and utensils for meals & snacks
  • Purchases of art supplies in large containers so less waste
  • Read about landfills and find out where our trash goes; contrast that to recycling
  • Recycling program implemented
  • Redemption of bottles is another type of recycling and can be a fundraiser
  • Seek input from families and community about ways they see the program could become ‘greener’
  • Serve milk from gallon container and eliminate lots of small cartons of trash a day
  • Switch to cloth napkins
  • Teach about reduce, reuse, and recycle & model those practices in the program
  • Teach about trees and ways we can save paper by using both sides of a paper.
  • Vegetable garden at school that supplies a portion of the food
  • Walking and riding bikes to school instead of using the car
  • Waste management
  • Worm farm as an indoor composting project

No matter the political climate or negative things happening in the world, helping to connect children to nature will have an immediate impact on them…and will likely help them become better stewards of the Earth in years to come.

*What would you add to the going green checklist? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

 

Books for Nature-Inspired Teachers

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Full bookshelves are so inviting…don’t you just want to settle down and get reading?

Professional Books for Nature-Inspired Teachers

Compiled by April Zajko, M.Ed. (updated March 2017)

 

A Moving Child is a Learning Child: How the Body Teaches the Brain to Think (Birth to Age 7) by Gill Connell

Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom and Richard Louv

Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education by David Sobel

ECO Literate: How Educators are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind by Linda Buzzell

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray

Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy

I’m OK! Building Resilience through Physical Play by Jarrod Green

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning by David Sobel and Patti Bailie

Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities by David Sobel

Play the Forest School Way: Woodland Games and Crafts for Adventurous Kids by P. Houghton and Jane Worroll

Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell

The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy by Edward M. Hallowell

The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places by Gary Paul Nabhan

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

Theories of Childhood (2nd edition) by Carol Garhart Mooney

What If Everybody Understood Child Development? By Rae Pica

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Snow Mazes

img_1131One really simple and fun activity to do outdoors is to create “Snow Mazes”. I like to head outside with my snowshoes on, and pack down a winding path with a couple of dead ends. (This could be created with boots, but will take you much longer.) At the end of the path I hide a large plastic tote by burying it into the snow. Sometimes the tote is pretty easy to spot, but the kids play along since they love the idea of hunting down buried treasure. What to offer as the treasure depends on what you have available. Some ideas to get you started include plastic outdoor toys, colored ice cubes, large chunks of snow, large ‘diamond’ ice chunks or icicles, or a stuffed animal brought from home.

Another option would be to hide treasures along the path and the kids could have a bucket to gather the items such as pine cones or colored ice cubes as they travel the path.

Sometimes these mazes are simple with straight lines so the kids run longer distances, and other times I create lots of twists and turns.

With one group of preschoolers these mazes always turned into an imaginative game of them playing that they were race car drivers, so I brought out a bunch of Frisbees to be their steering wheels.

Children also love to make these mazes their own – maybe suggest they create a pirate’s map first indoors and then create it once they get outside.

Have you made snow mazes for your children? I’d love to hear about them!

Chubby Little Snowman Props

“Chubby Little Snowman” is a classic poem that has been part of my teaching repertoire for almost two decades! I’m not sure of the original source, but I think most early childhood teachers know the poem by heart.

A chubby little snowman
Had a carrot nose.
Along came a rabbit
And what do you suppose?
That hungry little bunny,
Looking for his lunch,
ATE the snowman’s carrot nose…….
Nibble, nibble, CRUNCH!

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After my students learn the rhyme, we create props to act it out. To create the noses, I cut toilet paper tubes and help the children roll them to create a cone shape. Using orange masking tape the children layer on until the whole outside is covered.  This year the kids decided they wanted noses of multi-colors…why limit yourself to just orange! Then we use a whole punch and add thin elastic to make a way to tie the nose on!

For the bunny, we cut out a bunny shape from card stock and tape it onto a tongue depressor. The children then have a set of props that they can use to retell and act out the poem.

Simple and almost free…which are often the most beloved projects we do!

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Snowflake Print Making

I love to offer open ended explorations for my students that connect to what we are studying. Currently we are learning about snowflakes, so what better way than to create some snowy paintings.

For print making I like to lay out a variety of materials such as: spool of thread, bottom of a berry basket cut into snowflake shape, foam snowflake stickers stuck onto wooden blocks, snowflake shaped cookie cutters, and foam snowflake stamps.

For paints I like to use a shallow pie pan to attempt to contain most of the mess. I like to offer a variety of blues, whites, and glittery paints. Washable paints are essential for this project, and I love BioColor paints from Discount School Supply!

After the materials are set up, I let the children explore and create!

 

Winter Early Childhood Conference

I am super excited to be a presenter for the VIRTUAL 2017 Winter Early Childhood Conference. My session is titled, “Exploring Winter with Children” and its jam packed with practical ideas to get children actively engaged outside in the colder months!

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Over the years I’ve taken many different trainings from Fairy Dust Teaching…and love the convenience of staying home while I learn new things.

And now I get to give back, and be a presenter myself!

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If you’d like more information about the conference, check out this link!

https://io156.isrefer.com/go/winterconference/azajko/

 

 

Snowflake Catching Necklaces

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I had this brainstorm a few years ago when I was outside with my son. We were trying to catch snowflakes on black felt and black construction paper but they kept bending in half and blowing in the wind. My son had his mittens on so he was even more frustrated by not being able to hold the paper well.

That’s when it hit me, I need to make some “Snowflake Catching Necklaces”!

I wanted something that could hang around his neck so when he lost interest it could just hang there. I also wanted it to be firm enough that it wouldn’t fold or bend. I decided an old CD with a ribbon attached could fit this purpose.

To make them I covered one side with dark colored felt. The felt works well because it’s fuzzy texture kind of makes the snowflakes stand up so you can view it from multiple angles. I also made sure that the ribbon was long enough to easily fit over a hood or hat since these will be used while we have our big winter coats on.

For the reverse side of the snowflake catchers I have made a couple of different versions:
* For some I added a felt pocket where a magnifying glass could be stored. To make it more portable, I attached a plastic magnifying glass onto another ribbon so it would all stay together. (This option proved a little hard for 3 year olds to operate though.)
* Another idea was to draw a few types of common snowflakes to use as a quick reference.
* My favorite choice for preschoolers is to the leave the back side blank so they have a “mirror”. They like to check themselves, especially if they are trying to catch falling snowflakes on their tongues! This mirror would also be fun to show them how to make reflections with the sun and send an S.O.S. message!

Class set for my preschoolers…now if only we could have a nice snowfall!

Happy Snowflake Catching! Be sure to look up the life story of Snowflake Bentley, whose passion was catching and photographing snowflakes!

I also have a great Pinterest board of fun ideas to do outdoors in winter!

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