In her beautiful book The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson connects young children's sensory development with the natural growth of all living things. She writes: "If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil." As school and center directors, we carry a responsibility for helping children make those powerful connections to the environment that will persist throughout their lives.

Praise environmentally caring classrooms

Learning about and caring for the natural environment is a logical place for an interest in science to begin. Your classrooms can reflect this care as both an important value and the perfect atmosphere in which to develop an ongoing interest in scientific inquiry. Young children are naturally interested in their surroundings, and they're eager to look after and help nurture pets and plants. Most early childhood teachers find that living things not only enliven their rooms, but bring focus to children, who take turns feeding and tending to the class bunny or guinea pig or assume the job of watering classroom greenery. Be sure to nonce and praise teachers' efforts to honor the environment In addition to familiar tasks, teachers can introduce a number of specific science activities that have the potential to result in a culminating celebration.

Plant seeds

Planting seeds is a perfect springtime activity! Have teachers select seeds that have a high probability of germination so mat children will "see" success. These might include flowers, such as primrose, marigold, and zinnia, or plants, such as lima or runner beans, radish, and pumpkin. Pumpkin plants will be ready to be taken home or transplanted outside the school in three to four weeks. (Pumpkins also have the advantage of maturing in the fall, providing a great opportunity to discuss the seasons.) Reading The Carrot seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson is a perfect example of patience and a springboard for discussing the importance of sun and water. Some other suggestions you can share with teachers include:

  • Provide at least two plastic or paper cups, labeled with name of child and type of seed, to guard against disappointment.
  • Have children fill their own cups with potting soil, using teaspoons: 2/3 potting soil, some seeds, then more potting soil to cover.
  • Make sure cups are placed near a window for sunlight and gently watered.
  • Children can water their own plants daily and observe for first sprouting of plants.

Hatch chicks or ducks

Your teachers must be comfortable with the risk of unfertile eggs, or eggs that do hatch but don't survive, in order to undertake this adventure. They must also be willing to assume daily adult responsibility for turning the eggs in the incubator. If so, this spring science activity is both do-able in terms of time and a thrilling experience for all. Here is the general outline of steps that will involve not only the teachers and children, but you as director:

  • Obtain fertilized eggs from a reliable 4H club or farm (to which you will be required to return the chicks or ducks soon after hatching).
  • Turn eggs as instructed in incubator for 21 days, at which point you should begin to see cracks and hear peeping.
  • Once hatched and dried, chicks will "fluff out" and be ready to move to a chick house-constructed by the children from a box and equipped with food, water, and a warming light.
  • After four or five days of excited observation and careful touching, organize a "farewell part" and class trip with parents to return chicks to their permanent home.

Recycle

Recycling bins in your school can introduce children naturally to the benefits of sorting garbage, paper, and glass. Taking a walk in the neighborhood is another way for them to observe the care-or lack of care-outdoors: Which materials are strewn around or tossed aside? Are there clearly marked containers for recycled materials or all-purpose wastebaskets?

A wonderful hands-on activity for young children to experience in the classroom is paper-making-from recycled paper. As many teachers may not have had the experience of paper-making, hold an all staff meeting that will introduce them to the basics and the necessary materials. Once teachers are familiar with the process themselves, they can:

  • Introduce the process by reading Inez Snyder's Trees to Paper aloud.
  • Ask children to shred the necessary scrap paper as the first step in the recycling process, and continue to involve them through the steps of blending, draining, rolling, and drying.
  • Invite families to come to a recycled paper party. Draw, write, and make books together!

Plant a tree

For a final year-end event, consider discussing the purchase of a crab apple tree with your parents' association. Along with classroom-constructed bird feeders, this tree's berries are irresistible to birds! Planting a tree is a symbolic and beautiful way for your entire school community to come together in celebration of the environment and its need for our care.