When it comes to thinking about planet Earth, concern about our impact on its environment is nothing new, as you can see from this startling 1884 print. (How did they know so much back then, prior to satellite imagery?)
Earth Day has been around for quite awhile, too. It began on April 22, 1970, after Senator Gaylord Nelson called on students to fight for the environment and oppose its degradation with the same energy they put into opposing the Vietnam War.
Ever since that day in 1970, we’ve been educating schoolchildren about their impact on the environment and what they can do to save the Earth. Today, some experts believe that this is too great a burden on our very youngest students, who often spend little time interacting with nature, yet are bombarded with frightening media coverage about melting glaciers and the destruction of animal populations. What to do? One idea is to help younger students appreciate and bond with the nature around them first.
Primary grades: Celebrate nature! Ask students to explore a field of daisies or a mountain ramble and identify things they might find in their neighborhood, then go outside and look for them. Take nature walks as often as possible. Students can describe details or draw what they see. Ask them: What do you feel, hear and smell? What do you love most about the outdoors?
Upper elementary: Look closely at photos of school gardens and victory gardens around the country. What details do you find in common? Using ideas from one or more of the photos, design your own class garden, large or small. Create it, nurture it, and enjoy it! Document it with photos, drawings, or a journal.
Secondary grades: Explore the history of Earth Day. Ask students to analyze 1884 logging and compare it to an environmental issue that is similar today, in the U.S. or elsewhere. They can research legislation on the current issue on Congress.gov. Ask them to identify different points of view in each situation, then ask: What are some concerns adults might have that get in the way of “doing the right thing” for the planet? Why might you, as a teenager, be in a position to make a difference?
For more Earth Day teaching ideas, check out Danna Bell’s Going Green: Celebrating Our Natural World. For more about designing a garden, see her post Preparing for Spring by Celebrating School Gardens.
How might resources from the Library of Congress help you and your students connect with the Earth today and all year round?