Me and My World-Teaching Sustainability to Young Children

A greater focus has been placed on our environment in recent years. We hear the terms sustainability, climate crisis, global warming, carbon footprint, hazardous waste, greenhouse effect, and more…all aimed at raising awareness. Some of these topics can seem confusing even for adults; so, how do we teach young children about these concepts in a way that they can understand?

Sustainability is an abstract concept, but it is really just a collection of good practices. It is important to involve children in activities in nature to make caring for the environment a natural part of their lives, and at the same time, bring their impact to the forefront.

Incorporating a project approach in early childhood is an appropriate way to emphasize sustainability fundamentals. This method helps young children develop a personal connection to their own actions. Early Childhood Professor and researcher Lillian Katz found it most beneficial to nurture the intellectual development in young children, rather than focusing solely on academic development. Intellectual development focuses on reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, and analyzing ideas. A project based approach encourages young children to make the best sense of their experiences and their environment. It allows them to see the purpose of their efforts (Katz, 2001).

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With these tenets in mind, fellow Apple Distinguished Educator and Early Years teacher Marc Faulder and I co-wrote a 3 book Young Children Can Create series focused on increasing environmental awareness for young children. These are teacher guides with step-by-step directions for students.

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The first book is Plants. Using an iPad, students work through a series of creative activities involving drawing, photography, video, and music across ELA, Math, Social Studies and Science. Student work for all three books is collected in a digital learning journal.

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Here is a sample page from the drawing section:

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Students learn the importance of plants and the plant life cycle. The iPad activities allow for content creation and sharing. I will discuss the other two books in future posts. Take a look and see what you think!

Coding With Young Learners

I’m often asked about coding with young learners. Is it appropriate? Is it too difficult? When done well, it is both appropriate and fun for young children to dive into the coding world.

Coding is a basic literacy in our digital age; and just like reading and writing, it is best to start early.  Our students are surrounded by digital devices, toys, and activities. Learning how they work not only enhances computational thinking, it strengthens other skills in reading and math, including spelling and sequencing. Additionally, coding requires students to think about thinking–these metacognitive processes really hone problem solving skills.

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My kindergarten students loved working with Kodable on their iPad devices. You can read more about that here,  here, and here. I found that even students who gave up easily when confronted with a challenge, persevered when learning how to code. I saw a different kind of confidence in them and increased communication as they worked with other students to use logic to solve problems. Because there are so many variations to solving problems, creativity is also improved.

For students who can read, Apple has developed a comprehensive coding curriculum through Swift Playgrounds. Swift is easy to learn and students age 8 and up can quickly learn coding fundamentals. For younger students, ScratchJr, (ages 5-7) allows students to solve problems and design projects. Kodable has activities for ages 4-7 and another set of activities for ages 7-10. You can also check out CodeSpark Academy, (ages 5-9) and Code Monkey Jr  (ages PreK to K).

Lastly, check out the Hour of Code. It has a Pre-Reader Express activity that is great for young children to learn the basics of drag and drop and computer science. They are able to create a game or story at the end. There are also great submissions from others for the Hour of Code that are inspirational to see.

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Just about every type of business today needs computer literate people. In addition to the many skills enhanced by coding, teaching children to code provides a competitive advantage in today’s digital society.