Growing Up Green: Teaching Our Youngest Learners Environmental Citizenship Through the Arts
Part One: The Life Cycle of Plants
We think with our hands, and when students are immersed in a lesson together, they begin to make their own connections.”
We are in the midst of pilot programming for Prince George’s County Public School’s new arts integration initiative—Growing Up Green, a Kindergarten-level, environmental literacy program. The initiative, part of an exciting new partnership between Young Audiences/Arts for Learning, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Prince George’s County Public Schools, is funded in part by a BGE Green Grant and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The program engages kindergartners in meaningful and authentic outdoor experiences that connect them to their local ecosystems and inspire them to protect our environment. The arts provide the vehicle that the students use to demonstrate and communicate their learning to the greater learning community of their school.
Growing Up Green residencies are divided into four major themes—Habitats, Local Ecosystems, The Life Cycle of Animals, and The Life Cycle of Plants.
One of the first YA teaching artists to pilot this program was textile artist Pam Negrin. Pam chose “The Life Cycle of Plants” for her residency with the Kindergarten class at Rockledge Elementary School. “One of the tenants of this initiative is just getting kids outside!” With cuts to recess, these residencies provide purposeful outdoor experiences that directly engage students with their surroundings and sharpen their observation skills.
Along with being outside, one of Pam’s favorite things about Growing Up Green is “giving students a chance to experience wonder.” She and the students had several surprises while exploring the hidden parts of plants everyone gathers at the beginning of the residency. After reading about what constitutes a “fruit,” students sort their treasures—dandelion, sweet gum fruit, crepe myrtle seed, milkweed—into the appropriate plant life phase: seed, seedling, mature plant, flower, or fruit. The students loved playing a game where they had to accurately categorize collected plant life alongside familiar food found in a grocery store by exclaiming “fruit!” or “not fruit!”
Early on in the pilot program, students gathered an assortment of “fruits” resembling spiky balls that fall from sweet gum trees. Even though most attempt to avoid these prickly pods, the students gave no hesitation in cracking them open to find hundreds of seeds! Once the plants were sorted, the students began to observe and draw each part. Using their original drawings as a visual guide, and after learning some basic embroidery stitches, they collectively stitched a large-scale embroidery depicting the life cycle of plants. “Kids are stitching around the table with each other, working in groups, exploring together. Really, collaboration is another strong aspect of Growing Up Green,” says Pam. “We think with our hands, and when students are immersed in a lesson together, they begin to make their own connections.”
Ultimately, Growing Up Green can naturally make children stewards of the environment, “not because we taught them preservation is important in a textbook, but because they were outside experiencing it for themselves.” Pam adds, “this residency reminded me that the more immersed I can be in what the students are learning in their core curriculum, and the more I experience the wonder and excitement of that learning, the more I have to share with my students and the stronger the arts integration.”
The program also provides teachers the tools to creatively engage students in curriculum-based learning through arts integration long after the residency has ended. In fact, one of Growing Up Green’s primary missions is to ensure the program’s long-term sustainability in the classroom. Once the residency ends, the arts integration techniques that were taught during the residency help teachers to more accurately and confidently employ environmentally based learning strategies into their current lesson plans. Ideally, once the piloting phase of the program is complete, Growing Up Green will become embedded into the core science and social studies curriculum of Prince George’s County Public Schools.
By partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to arm schools with relevant, local environmental data to meet district-level standards, and by doing our part to provide teaching artists and professional development in arts integration, this program could not be more equipped to succeed.
Video: Growing Up Green @ Rockledge Elementary
Growing Up Green aligns with Environmental Literacy Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core State Standards, and Visual Arts Standards.