With our winter inquiry coming to an end, the biggest challenge in my mind was how to facilitate the opportunity for my senior kindergarten students to use what they have learned so that they can become valuable stewards of the planet.
To provoke an understanding of the need to care for and respect the environment which related to our winter inquiry and hoping the students would automatically spring into action, I wrote a note from the creatures the students have observed living in and around our schoolyard. In the note, the creatures complain that the snow is so dirty, that it is making them sick: “Chers Amis, Our homes are not healthy any more! When the snow melts, the water we need to live is making us sick. Many of our friends have already left to find a cleaner place to live. We don’t want to leave! Can you help us? Signed, your friends – Earthworm, Chickadee, Rabbit, Crow and Cardinal. I folded the note and tucked it into a space between the bark and trunk of one of our maple trees growing along the fence in the schoolyard.
During the morning Outdoor Learning period, we started off the lesson with a turn and talk activity to review some of the things we learned about What Happens in Winter. Information flowed as the students chatted with their peers. When they had finished, I gave them the challenge of looking for and finding evidence of living things in the schoolyard. I was beginning to wonder if anyone would find the note, when finally, a group of students came running back, all talking loudly at once about something they had found in a tree.
I gathered the students together and read the note aloud to them, ending it with the question, “What do you think?” They turned and talked with their neighbours excitedly. “Rabbits can’t write!” “Yes they can.” And about the message of the snow being unclean; “It’s true! There is sand in the snow. I can see it.” “Snow looks clean but it’s actually really dirty.” Others mentioned the microbes and the dirt from cars as well as the dogs that dirty the ground. So I asked, “Can we drink the water if we melt this snow?” to which came the answer, “Ewww! No way!”
At this point, I was hoping the students would acknowledge that humans played a part in the messing up of things and that, consequently, it was up to all of us to stop it. However, I was quickly made to realize that, of course, how to clean up the planet is a gazillion dollar question that nobody can fully agree on, let alone a group of five year olds. At this age, they are very capable of figuring out how to help in such a situation, one animal at a time, by giving a bowl of clean water to drink, which is what they do for their pets at home. And what did I really have in mind as far as stewardship goes? Petitions? Posters? Protest marches? It became clear to me that rather than ask HOW we might help the creatures, a better question was, WHAT IF? So I started over again, asking them, “What Would Happen If There Were No Winter?”, and I explained that, “There is something called Climate Change which is making our Earth warmer than it should be. Scientists think this is happening because of pollution caused by people using cars and airplanes to travel around, and building factories to make things.”
At first, the group was rather quiet, but then one of the students made the comment that a warmer Earth meant that the snow would melt. RIght away, more students began to add their thoughts as a conclusion began to form itself:
“If the snow melts, then the polar bears would have no home.”
“And the seals and foxes, too.”
“There would be no habitat for the animals.”
“All the animals would lose their habitat and then they won’t have anything to eat.”
“Their habitat is broken and the animals would get dead.”
Losing habitat is something the students could visualize and understand, and so I was able to ask them, “How do you think we can be habitat helpers, then?” They were so happy to articulate how they have bird feeders in their backyards, how they compost and recycle garbage, how they plant gardens with their families, and how sad they are when they see destruction of habitat such as trees being cut down, or dried up worms on the pavement. While five year olds may not independently engage in activism on a large scale, when we finished this inquiry, many of them realized that they already do have a positive impact on the environment. My own learning came when I had to acknowledge that Stewardship and Sustainability in an SK classroom are, of course, tied very closely to the five-year-old developmental stage and the way children at this age perceive the world, with themselves firmly at the centre of it all. I was reminded that everything does, after all, start with the individual.