How To: Make Kids Eco-Aware

The way to a young person’s conservation-conscious heart is through active learning—and maybe some candy.

Monarch Hill Landfill, Florida, Eco-Conservation Kids

A view of the Monarch Hill landfill.

Monarch Hill Landfill Open House

11-year-old Alex indulges in a cup of edible landfill.

Kids love to say, “I hate school.” As a parent and substitute teacher, I believe they say this because they often confuse the stress of school with the wonder of learning, and that they are actually quite thrilled with knowledge—especially if it is not force fed.

This colorful cup of confection, for example, represents the anatomy of our local landfill. Graham cracker crumbs, fruit rollups, and green coconut flakes symbolize the compacted soil, protective liners, and cover vegetation respectively.  The edible landfill makes science easy to digest especially for elementary school kids. It is one of the many fun hands-on educational activities tailored specifically for the 8-11 year old population at the Monarch Hill Landfill and Renewable Energy Park’s Earth Day open-house (see video below).

Monarch Hill Landfill Earth Day Open House

CYCER visits South Florida schools as part of Waste Management's outreach and educational programs.

For the third consecutive year, along with snow cones, hotdogs, and a bunch of bounce houses, Waste Management employees demonstrated eco-concepts—composting, ground water contamination, and energy creation—into interactive kid-friendly terms. It’s kind of like a game where each student earns stamps on a passport when they visit an educational and engaging demonstration. Once filled, they trade the passport in for a tee shirt.

“We want the students to come away with a clearer understanding of our environmentally sound practices and leading edge technology that produce enough clean, renewable electricity from waste to power more than 50,000 homes a day,” says Dawn McCormick, community Affairs Manager for Waste Management, owners of Monarch.

Monarch Hill Landfill Earth Day Open House

High school science teacher Deborah McDade with some of the Monarch High Environmental Club Volunteers.

High school science teacher Deborah McDade also wants to make learning hands-on and fun. She agrees that the fascinating world of environmental science isn’t always apparent in a textbook setting. McDade leads the Environmental Club at Monarch High and since taking over the Club two years ago has reenergized its mission of promoting environmental awareness.

Besides participating in a school-wide recycling program, the 135 Environmental Club students are also involved in county-wide events such as park restoration, beach clean ups, and tree give-away programs that also help accrue bundles of community service hours. “It takes a community effort,” she says, “but it has to start with the individual.”

St. Stephen's Main Highway Pavilion Eco-Friendly School

St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School's Main Highway Pavilion was granted Gold LEED certification through the LEED School Program.

Each tyke who attends St. Stephens Episcopal Day School in Coconut Grove, a FL lives the green message daily in a healthy and natural-light infused LEED Gold school building. When Architect Jenifer Briley designed the new pavilion for SSEDS, besides doing all the things necessary to get LEED certified, she envisioned the building— constructed with indigenous and recycled materials and thoughtfully incorporating the existing native landscape—as a teaching tool. In-school programs such as school uniform recycling and student energy patrol serve to further instill a thoughtful and non-wasteful conscience. A link on the SSEDS website, totally devoted to living and learning green, is a wonderful reinforcement of it all.

For more on eco-conservation, consider the following Bob Vila articles and slide shows:
5 Simple Ways to Save Water at Home
Light Bulbs—The Shape of Things to Come
20 Ways to Go Green Today