One simple way to introduce EE in your classroom is to designate an area of your classroom for exploration about the natural environment outside your building. Many students (and teachers) may be nervous about exploring the area outside of the building, so bring the outside in!
- Preschool ideas
- Provide costumes of animals and plants that live in your area.
- Set out puppets or models of animals and plants that live in your area.
- Provide Tree building blocks.
- Make a sensory table filled with corn, water, or sand for budding archeologists.
- Elementary/Middle School ideas
- Create a Terrarium
- Set out books on the environmental topic you're focusing on. Project Learning Tree (PLT) has a great literature listing.
- Learn about animals and plants for your area.
- Collect touch and feel items from the outdoors. See rules and permit information about collecting feathers and nests.
- Make and display a poster of items students collect in the schoolyard. Collection tips
- Hang a weather calendar. Trying using the Minnesota Weather guide
- Learn about nature sounds by playing CDs, Minnesota frog calls or bird songs, etc .
- Establish a classroom worm compost bin . Remember not to release them outside.
Pets can help students get over their fear of animals outdoors, and provide many opportunities for observing animal behavior, physiology, and other observations. Class pets can range from the traditional hamster to other critters that live in your area. However, there are rules about catching wildlife to keep as pets. In many cases, unless it's an insect, it's not allowed! Buying a pet from a pet store is ok, but like any animal stewardship, it will take a commitment on your part to keep the animal alive, healthy, and happy. Let students feed the animals and record it on a class chart. Insects are usually ok. Think of ant farms, or a bottle biology column that contains bugs. You can also temporarily keep pet ladybugs in your terrarium.
Note: All Giant African land snails are illegal in the U.S. because they are highly invasive and can cause extensive damage to food crops. If you have these pets, when you're "through" with them, DON'T RELEASE INTO THE ENVIRONMENT OR GIVE THEM AWAY.
- To attract wildlife, plant native trees and shrubs that bear nuts, berries, or fruit. Make sure to tell the grounds staff to not mow in your planted area. Trees and shrubs planted for wildlife will attract wildlife all year long, even in urban areas, without having to buy and provide birdseed.
- Save appropriate lunch leftovers (fruit or vegetable leftovers only) and place in a "wildlife feeding station."
- If you want to feed birds, see these bird feeding tips.
- Set out a heated water dish (Fleet Farm sells them for dogs) and keep it filled with water all winter.
- Keep a camera, binoculars, and field guides handy!
- Journal entries
- Drawings, paintings, and other artwork
- Poster of leaves or other natural items collected by students
If your window gets a lot of sun, use it!
- Set up a sundial next to the window. Teach students to mark the time.
- Set up a shadow observation area. For example, place a stick or ruler in a vase. Place the vase on a large sheet of white paper. Make sure the vase and paper never moves from its spot. Over the course of the year, mark the length on the ruler's shadow on the paper at noon. Students will find that objects cast longer shadows in winter than they do in spring or fall.
- Establish a potted herb garden for pleasant indoor smells. Rosemary, mint, thyme, basil, and sage grow well indoors. If you don't get enough sun, you can install a Grow-light above the planting box. A key to growing herbs indoors is keeping the roots moist by placing pots in a tray filled with rocks and water.
- Set up an indoor vegetable garden. Lettuce grows quickly, and the class can eat it.
- Place solar-related experiments in the sill. Good PLT activities include, "Sunlight and Shades of Green," "How Do Plants Grow," and "Air Plants."
- Set up a thermometer outside the window and record the weather.
Have students make and label bins for collecting paper, tin, aluminum, and plastic. Contact your local recycling center to see what can be recycled. Collect non-recyclable items and measure how much is collected over the week. (Tell your janitor NOT to empty your trash until Friday.) Make a class goal to reduce the amount of garbage that can't be recycled and reuse items you collect as much as you can.
Books and magazines are a great way to connect readers to nature. Here are some suggestions.
- PLT Literature List for preschool and young children
- Literature Connections for PLT Activities (grades 1-5)
- The DNR's Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine creates beautiful and engaging"Young Naturalists" articles written for young readers. Many articles have useful Teachers' Guides that are correlated to academic standards to help you address your classroom's reading requirements.
- Make mobiles out of twigs and leaves and hang.
- Arrange glow-in-the dark stars into real constellations and stick to the ceiling.
- Hang cut-outs of clouds, birds, bats, bugs, and other airborne inhabitants.
Have students cut out animal tracks and tape to the floor in the pattern the animal would make.
When students arrive, play a different animal song for each day of the week. For example, play cardinal songs on Mondays, play chickadee calls on Tuesdays, etc. After a while, students will be able to identify the songs in nature. (Try the animal recordings Web site from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)