Curriculum: Cool the Earth, A Ready-to-Run Free Nationwide K-8 Program
For students at Town Center Elementary School, getting good grades is not the only concern.
Since the launch of the Cool the Earth program at their New Jersey school, Town Center students have become very focused on the precarious state of polar bears, and what kids can do to have a positive impact on our changing climate. “When I walk down the halls,” reports 3rd grade teacher Jeanine Bryde, “The students constantly ask me, ‘How are the bears doing?’”
Now in nearly 300 schools nationwide, Cool the Earth is a free program that teaches kids in grades K-5 about climate change, and motivates them to take simple actions at home to reduce their carbon emissions. The program is successful because it’s fun and empowering for the kids, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
Early Intervention: “What is key about this program is that we’re teaching kids environmentally sound habits at a young age. This is definitely the way to go,” Bryde affirms. The program launches with a short play performed by the schools’ teachers that introduces kids to the concepts of climate change using the familiar faces of the teachers in the roles of bad "Mr. Methane", and "Mama Polar Bear."
Telling A Story: “The kids love the play,” says Heather Dobbs, Cool the Earth parent coordinator at Alexander Hamilton School in Morristown, New Jersey, “because the teachers playing the parts are big hams.” Dobbs, who has children in 3rd and 5th grade, believes that Cool the Earth explains the science of global warming in a way that is meaningful to kids. “It tugs at the kids' heart strings when they hear about polar bears in danger. Kids can take in that story more easily than just hearing about carbon emissions.”
After watching the play, students take home coupon books containing 20 no- or low-cost actions that they can take to reduce their carbon emissions and “help the polar bears.”
Once a family takes an action at home, parents sign the coupon and the students bring the coupons back to school where they receive credit and incentives, like earth-friendly trading cards.
“I wanted to do something that would motivate people to take action right away, that would change the way people use energy and natural resources,” says Carleen Cullen, who founded Cool the Earth in 2006 with her husband, Jeff.
A Child-Driven Model: A mother in Northern California, Cullen had become concerned about climate change and its impact on her children’s future. So she created a non-profit program that uses a child-driven model to create change. This model, in which the family acts together out of concern for the dangers of global warming, has recently been cited as one of the most effective methods to create positive environmental change by The Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research at George Mason University.
“Kids are great communicators when it comes to influencing their families,” says Cullen.
Since piloting Cool the Earth in her children’s school in Kentfield, California in 2007, Cullen has seen the program gain steady momentum. She credits the power of “collective community” with the program’s success:
“Changing a light bulb in your house by yourself doesn’t feel very rewarding, right? People feel, ‘We’re doomed! We’re not going to be able to do anything.’ But when you start to see that everybody’s changing their light bulbs, it becomes clear that we are actually eliminating thousands of pounds of carbon as a community, and it truly makes a difference.”
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: “Cool the Earth is a perfect way to ‘think globally, act locally,'” offers volunteer Emily Fagans, coordinator at Orion Elementary School in Redwood City, California and former Stanford University psychologist. “Kids have a natural enthusiasm about making a difference. In fact, parents usually feel overloaded about the magnitude of the global warming problem. But the child's optimism helps energize parents to think differently about the potential they have to make a difference.”
Easy on Teachers: Operating outside of classroom time, Cool the Earth relies on parent volunteers from the school, so it's easy on teachers. “Once the teachers realize that there is no extra work burden for them, they are much more willing to embrace it,” says Bryde, whose students took more than 2000 actions within 1 month of launching the program.
Change Happens! Bryde is impressed with the program's affect on environmental awareness on her campus. “Before we did the play, there were a lot of teachers using plastic water bottles,” she says. “It's so funny -- Lately teachers have told me, ‘I feel guilty using a plastic water bottle now, so I’ve switched over to reusable water bottles, because the kids glare at me.’ It's definitely a positive change.”
Hands-On Activities Increase Awareness: At Alexander Hamilton, where Dobbs is a coordinator, before running Cool the Earth there was very little consciousness about waste and garbage. Then Dobbs ran Cool the Earth's “No Waste Lunch” activity, which involves weighing garbage before and after encouraging the use of reusable containers.
“At first there was no awareness,” says Dobbs, “The kids thought, ‘Oh well, a plastic bag, how much does that weigh?’ But by the time we were done, most of the kids had begun using some type of recyclable container. They figured out they didn’t have to go out and spend money—that they could just use leftover to-go containers, and the like.”
And like many adults, Dobbs, who has a background in environmental policy, finds it meaningful that Cool the Earth gives the tools for change directly to the next generation. “Some of the parents come up to me, and tell me their kids are not waiting around for them to take action. It really hit home with them; they don’t have to do these big things, they can just look around their house and make changes.”
Bring the free Cool the Earth program to your child's K-8 school. Learn how.