On Saturday March 28th millions of people around the globe will turn off their lights and spend an hour without the use of electricity to mark Earth Hour. The movement, in previous years, has helped spark initiatives like tree planting and the banning of single use plastics in different countries. It’s important to talk about Earth Hour so young people understand the reasons behind the initiative and encourage their families to participate. There are many areas of the curriculum that involve environmental issues and stewardship. The environment is a natural springboard to explore different models of learning such as inquiry, design thinking, and project based learning. Here are a few titles and activities for kids from grades K-8 that fit with a discussion of Earth Hour and what we can do to help protect our planet.
Inspired by true events, In the Treehouse by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričić is the story of a boy who plans and builds a treehouse with his dad and older brother. After a while his big brother doesn’t want to play anymore, he’d rather hang out with his friends. Until one night when the power goes out. The boy sees his neighbours actually come out of their houses and socialize. His brother joins him in the treehouse and they read comics, play cards and are finally able to see the stars. When the lights go back on a few hours later, they are having so much fun that they stay in the treehouse together instead of running back inside like everyone else. This book serves as a great example of how to have fun and connect with each other without relying on lights and electronics.
Learning Connection: Make a list of games and activities that kids can enjoy without electricity. Estimate how much energy will be saved if lights and computers are turned off for an hour.
Join the No-Plastic Challenge: A First Book of Reducing Waste by Scot Ritchie is an amazing and informative book about plastics and how they can harm the environment. The story starts with a challenge given by a boy named Nick. For his birthday, he asks his friends to go all day without using single use plastics. The book includes useful chapters about taking an inventory of plastics found around the house, buying environmentally friendly products, how plastic can affect the oceans, how plastic hurts animals, how plastic is made and much more.
Learning Connection: There are so many classroom activities that can be linked to this book. Families can challenge themselves to go waste free for a week or a month (keeping any garbage in a tiny jar) and track their progress via daily blog posts.
I asked my students to think about ways to clean up the oceans and convince companies to use materials other than plastic for product packaging. They used the design thinking process to come up with many solutions, including a recycling and garbage scanner/sorter and a robot that walks around the oceans sucking up plastic.
Another great way to spark an inquiry is with a photo. After reading Join the No-Plastic Challenge, I showed my students a photo of the garbage left over from my family’s McDonald’s breakfast. The students described what they saw, gathered ideas from the book and came up with questions that led to further research and problem solving.
It’s 1903 and the Tweedle family is finally going to purchase a car. In The Tweedles Go Electric by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Marie Lafrance, Papa doesn’t want a steam or gas car. He wants an electric one because it’s green and smart. Everyone else makes fun of the family’s car and advise that they get a real one but the Tweedles are happy with the one they have. When the neighbours experience an emergency and have no gas, they must borrow the electric car in order to get to the hospital. With fun illustrations and characters (the kids’ names are Frances and Francis), this book shows that electric cars are not a brand new invention and can lead to conversations about renewable energy.
Learning Connection: Last month in the library, I invited students to create cars powered by wind or solar energy. They went through multiple iterations of their designs. We used a fan and a solar panel to test their creations. I was amazed by their perseverance and problem solving skills. There was so much pride and excitement when their designs were successful.
Sprout Seed Sprout by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff is a simple book with minimal but lyrical text about a boy who plants an avocado seed and waits and waits for it to grow. This engaging story, filled with repetition and counting illustrates the planting process and the frustration that can result from the long wait for results.
Learning Connection: Sprout Seed Sprout can lead into an inquiry about plants and growing your own food. It’s a great time of year to get things started! I had students research whether or not they could grow a lemon tree in the library. We ended up sprouting and planting some lemon seeds.
Oculum by Philippa Dowding is a middle grade novel set in the future after an environmental disaster. Miranda1 and William1 have lived their entire lives in a sealed dome called Oculum, cared for by their robot mothers. Seeds from plants and special bees were also stored in the dome. They were among the first wave of 1000 infants to be woken up after being put into a deep sleep as the outside world was falling apart. Black rain came that caused fevers and killed people, crops and bees. The two teens have always wondered whether the rumours of people living outside the dome are true. When William1 finds a door and disappears into the world outside, Miranda1 needs to decide if she will stay safely inside Oculum or go after him and discover the truth.
Learning Connection: This book provides an excellent opportunity for project-based learning. Kids can think about what steps could be taken if an environmental disaster were to occur. How could they ensure human, animal, and plant survival? What considerations are needed to create a biodome?
Allison Hall is a Teacher-Librarian at a K–8 public school in Brampton, Ontario. She is passionate about creativity and empowering students. She is also a bit of a Lego addict.