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!

 

 

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!

Holiday Card Making Station Ideas

img_3410A card making station is a great way to inspire open-ended exploration and creativity while encouraging fine motor development, as well as early reading and writing skills. Prior to introducing the children to the station, gather up materials that you have on hand and set it up all in one place that can be left for several days (or weeks). Aim to make the materials all items that the children can use independently, so they can create on their own without much adult help. If you leave the card making station set up over time, occasionally swing by when not in use to tidy up and add one or two new tools or materials to keep the area inviting and sparking new ideas. As you add new supplies, take some of the other items away. Make sure that the area doesn’t become cluttered or children will feel overwhelmed by the choices and may find it harder to create.

 

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General materials to start with:

Pre-folded blank cards (made from card stock or construction paper)

Envelopes that fit the size of cards available

Clear tape on a dispenser

Colored masking tape or painters tape

Hole Punch

Kid scissors

Markers or crayons

Glue stick or white glue

Name cards (on index cards write the names of family and friends for the children to copy)

Word wall (write down holiday words that children might like to copy: Merry Christmas/ To:  From:  / Love)

Materials or tools to add to keep the station interesting:

Colored copy paper or construction paper

Decorative paper punches

Decorative scissors (“Crazy Scissors” is what my students call them)

Do-a-Dot markers (careful since these can stain)

Foam shapes (to glue on)

Gel pens on black paper

Gift tag stickers or Paper gift tags and string

Glitter (if you’re brave)

Glitter glue

Holiday scrap booking paper

Holiday stickers

Photographs

Recycled cards from last year – cut out interesting pictures and collage

Recycled cards with hole punches on the edges & yarn to lace

Ribbon

Rubber stamps and stamp pads

Stamp markers

Tissue paper (pre-cut into squares for younger children)

White crayons on dark blue paper

For older preschoolers:

Stapler

Washable paint

Watercolor paints

Wrapping paper and clear tape

Open-ended craft supplies (transform the card making station into a ornament/gift making)

Beads

Bows

Buttons

Card stock

Cookie cutters (dip into paint and stamp / use to trace onto cards)

Curling ribbon

Gem stickers

Hemp twine

Pipe cleaners

Pom Poms

Popsicle sticks

Ribbon

Sequins

Stickers

Wiggly eyes

Wooden beads

Yarn

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Rabbit Hole

IMG_6614It’s so easy to log onto the computer in search of something, but fall into a never ending rabbit hole. I find this especially to be the case when I go looking for a new idea for my classroom. The eye candy of Pinterest, the thoughtful words of a teacher blog, and the quality resources on NAEYC are often the three main destinations of my rabbit hole journeys. {Oh wait…something on Facebook caught my eye, who just posted this funny video of two toddlers stealing each other pacifiers?}

I often start off on the path with a specific goal in mind (hmmm…how could I make my daily calendar time more child centered), but then I get sidetracked by other brilliant ideas, interesting looking activities, and delicious looking recipes. I change direction many times during one of these (near daily) rabbit hole adventures. I end up somewhere I didn’t know that I was headed, somewhere unexpected, and most often, somewhere inspiring. Quite often I never really fulfill the goal of my original quest before I realize it’s time to log off and rejoin reality. {You know, like make a real dinner for the family instead of pinning scrumptious desserts.}This of course means that tomorrow, I have reason to go back again to seek my answer. Luckily this meandering path often turns out to be more productive than a quick answer to my initial question since my discoveries often inspire my teaching, and give me new questions to ponder on my journey to be a be a lifelong learner.

Often on these serendipitous excursions, I yearn to create and share content on the web myself. As a way to share my voice, my experiences, and my passions, I often wish I had enough time to maintain my own website. In fact, if I reigned in my time on my journeys, I could create the time to write and publish. Perhaps this is the year that I commit to writing a weekly blog, so others might reach my thoughts along their own journeys. In fact, if you are reading this, you likely set out seeking an answer and found your way here!

 

 

Gardening All Year: The Circle Widens

IMG_2586This week I had the fine pleasure of being a presenter in Sally of Fairy Dust Teaching’s 2016 Summer Early Childhood Online Conference. What an honor it is to be a presenter with such a rich and knowledgeable group of educators. I am humbled, and honored for the many comments that were shared after folks watched my e-course.

I feel like my circle of friends has widened, and I am eager to share resources with everyone. My blog is in it’s sapling stage, but I hope that you check back.
I will set up my opt-in this weekend, and by subscribing to my newsletter, I will share a big packet of ideas (more than what was in the slide show) to get you “gardening all year” with your children.

Thanks again for stopping by!

April

 

For more information about the 2016 Summer Early Childhood Conference click here:

Summer Conference

 

For the love of fiddle heads…

imageThere is something magical about fiddleheads. That first sprouting of life. Vibrant green and spiraling. My children love to forage for fiddle heads in the forest on our land. It’s a sure sign that spring really is happening…which is a long and patience testing process in northern Vermont.

This year’s harvest was gathered by my children and enjoyed at several meals this week. It’s wonderful to see my children’s delight in brining home something they’ve wild crafted on their own, and even more delightful to watch them devour a food that many would find “too earthy”.

The joy of feasting on natures bounty with my family fills my heart. ❤️

Tapping for Sap~ Pretend Play

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I had this vision of creating a model maple tree that my preschoolers could tap and pretend to collect sap. I wanted the kids to have some first hand experience before we took them to a local sugar shack.

So I found the largest piece of cardboard I had, and got to work crafting a maple tree. Then I recruited my then five year old to help me practice collecting the sap. He was a bit dismayed at how slow the drips were, but once a puddle of ‘sap’ collected in the bowl he became excited about the process. As with many of our projects and experiments, I lost interest long before him. He continued to collect the sap for almost an hour and only stopped because his little sister started dumping the sap bucket!

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How it works:
One child gets to stand in the back of the tree and starts the flow of sap by using a pipette or turkey baster to push water into the tap.
The other kids watch as the sap drips from the tap, runs through the plastic tubing, and finally collects into the bucket.
To keep a group of kids interested in the activity, be sure to have plenty of funnels, cups, spoons, strainers, and tubing for them to explore properties of ‘sap’.
When I led this activity in my preschool classroom the kids were eager to be the one behind the tree and a line formed as they waited their turn. So I put additional pipettes in the collection bucket and they played there until it was their turn to ‘be the tree’.

This activity would be great to try at home. You could use any type of hose and a turkey baster! If you don’t have cardboard to make a tree, you could use a grocery bag with a hole cut or a large oatmeal container.

Check out my Pinterest board for more Maple Sugaring Ideas!