Currently viewing the category: "Informational Nonfiction"

“Helping Kids Understand the Immigration Debate”

The United States is a nation of immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, everyone living here has immigrant ancestors hanging from their family tree. Many of you live or work or attend school with immigrants. Some of you see an immigrant when you look in the mirror.

For more than a century, the Statute of Liberty has stood in New York Harbor and held her torch aloft, beckoning the world’s “tired…poor…huddled masses” to enter America’s Golden Door. However, even though the United States celebrates its immigrant past in story and song, we still struggle with each successive wave of immigration. History shows us that when foreigners come by the millions to America’s shores, even when the United States needs their labor, there is inevitably a backlash from citizens who want to close the Golden Door.

Today, we are witnessing that struggle play out on the news and in our neighborhoods.

Images bombard us—caravans, checkpoints, and children in cages.

Our lexicon expands—catch and release, national emergency, amnesty, and illegals.

Leaders stake claim to the truth as they debate whether to build a wall to keep immigrants out or to build a path that helps immigrants stay. Meanwhile, citizens want to know whose “truth” is the truth?

In an age when we can select media outlets from a menu that matches our political leanings, we often hear only information that corroborates our world view. We learn about immigration through a one-sided filter, our views become hardened, and the nation remains divided.

Today’s teenagers are tomorrow’s decision makers. They will shape future immigration policy. They will have to determine if America’s Golden Door remains open or is closed.

I wrote Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century to help youth explore immigration through unbiased, factual sources. The book examines the nation’s long history of immigration and the role the law has played as gatekeeper. Statistics and anecdotes tell the story of who immigrates, why they come, and how these newcomers are treated. The book explores the political, economic, and social impacts of current and future immigration. My goal was to equip teens with the knowledge they need to reach their own conclusions about what future U.S. immigration policy should be so they can use evidence and logic when participating in our national conversation about this important issue.

Here are three activities I developed to help young people explore different aspects of United States immigration.

Activity: Graph the Numbers

Sometimes graphs are helpful when thinking about complicated information. Design a series of graphs to communicate the history of U.S. immigration. Locate data at the Digital Scholarship Lab’s interactive website.

What changes in immigration do you want to show? Consider the following factors.

  • The rise and fall in the total number of immigrants from 1850 to 2010.
  • The most common countries of origin of immigrants in 1850, 1950, and 2010.
  • The percentage of the U.S. population that was foreign-born at different times in history.

What types of graphs most effectively illustrate these changes—a pie chart, bar graph, or line graph? Create a series of graphs and have a classmate try to read them. Are they successful?

To investigate more, choose one 50-year period between 1820 and 2010 and research the major world events that occurred then. What is the connection between these events and the trends in immigration at that time? How could you display these findings on a graph?

Activity: Graffiti as Protest

Throughout history, politicians have constructed walls to protect or divide, and people have created art on these walls to rebel and resist. In this activity, you will design art of a segment of the U.S. Mexican border wall that reflects your opinion of the state of immigration in the twenty-first century.

  • Research different views of President Trump’s proposed border wall. Read the opinions of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, economic analysts, environmental experts, immigration officials, and immigrant advocates.
  • Decide what you think about the border wall. Is it needed? How much will it cost? How effective will it be? What does an extended border wall say about the United States? What are the psychological impacts of living behind a wall?
  • Write a thesis statement to communicate your main opinion of the border wall. A thesis statement is usually a single sentence that summarizes your specific position on a subject.
  • Brainstorm different ways you can artistically represent your thesis. How will you execute your ideas?
  • Draw, paint, or sketch your ideas on a large piece of butcher paper. Display on a fence or wall so people can view your artistic expression.

To investigate more, research examples of border wall graffiti on walls around the world. What common themes or images are reflected by artists in different countries?

Activity: What’s on Your Plate?

Few Americans grow their own vegetables, milk their own cows, or butcher their own meat. We go to the grocery store, where almost any food is available any season of the year. Have you ever considered the lives of the people whose labor brings that food to your plate?

A 2014 report by the American Farm Bureau Federation found the agricultural industry needs between 1.5 and 2 million workers. Because not enough legal immigrants or American citizens will do backbreaking farm labor, 50 to 70 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants.

Explore the relationship between immigrant labor and the foods you eat. How much do you rely on farm workers?

  • Keep a food diary for one week. What fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, milk, and meat do you regularly consume?
  • Select one of these foods and research the role undocumented immigrants play in getting that item from the farm or field to the grocery store. What do immigrants say about their work experiences in places such as chicken processing plants or California fruit orchards? What makes the work difficult? What do they get paid for their work and how do their wages impact the price you pay at the grocery store?
  • In a creative way, communicate the journey this food took. Consider a short story, comic strip, or storyboard. Share the story with you peers and discuss how Americans benefit from the labor of undocumented immigrants.

To investigate more, change your story so all the workers who produced your food were paid minimum wage. What impact would this have on you as a consumer?

More classroom resources can be found at

Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century
Author: Judy Dodge Cummings
Illustrator: Richard Chapman
Published April 9th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What does it mean to be an immigrant today? Has the immigrant experience changed since the last century?

Immigration Nation: The American Identity in the Twenty-First Century invites middle and high schoolers to explore the history of immigration in the United States, along with immigration law and statistics through the perspectives of immigrants, citizens, policy makers, and border agents.

For more than a century, an immigrant from France has stood vigil in the New York Harbor. At 350 feet tall, with a majestic spiked crown upon her head, a tablet of laws clutched in one hand and a torch held aloft in the other, the lady is hard to miss. She cries out to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor…I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Millions of immigrants have answered the Statue of Liberty’s call, passing over, under, or through the Golden Door to become Americans.

However, on the eve of its 250th birthday, the United States is in the middle of an identity crisis. Should this land of immigrants open the door open to outsiders, people hungry for opportunity and desperate for freedom? Or should the country shut the golden door, barring entry to all but a select few? And what does it mean to be an American? How citizens answer these questions in the early twenty-first century will determine the future of America’s identity.

About the Author: Judy Dodge Cummings is a writer and former high school social studies teacher. She has written many books for children and teens, including Migration: Investigate the Global Journey of Humankind for Nomad Press. Lots of Judy’s books are related to history because that is her favorite topic to research, read, and write. Judy lives and writes in south central Wisconsin.



Thank you so much for this guest post!

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“Environmental Science Activities for Kids”

We can all agree that Earth is a pretty amazing planet. We’ve got oceans, rainforests, icebergs, and a huge range of diverse species living all over the place!

Earth is amazing, and it’s also enormous. It can be easy to forget and hard to imagine just how much area there is and how many organisms share it. One way that makes it easier is to think of the planet as a whole system and imagine it as being sectioned into different biomes. That’s what I did when I set out to write a book about what it’s like to live on Planet Earth. By taking a tour of the earth’s different biomes, we can see how interconnected all species actually are and how important it is to take of the environment where you live—because whatever happens to the land, water, and air where you are will have repercussions elsewhere in the world.

In Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids, I focused on nine biomes: deciduous forests, coniferous forests, tropical rainforests, deserts, temperate grasslands, tropical savannas, tundra, mountains, and oceans. Each one had an entire ecosystem to discover and explore, along with distinct species that had adapted specifically to their environment.

Inviting children along the journey is especially important. Climate change is no longer a slow-moving, far-away issue. Intense storms, rising sea levels, and altered seasons are all readily apparent in ways they didn’t use to be, and children are noticing and asking what they can do to be of service to the planet and help keep it healthy.

So, fasten your helmet as we get ready to embark on a bumpy ride around the world on a tour of the nine biomes! Our first stop is some super cool projects designed to get kids thinking about the environment and their role in its care.


This activity is pretty messy! Be sure to do it outside if possible! You can use your homemade paper to take notes or send letters to friends about your biome discoveries.

Caution: Have an adult help with the blender.

Rip scrap paper into teeny pieces. Place about 1/2 cup of it into a blender. Pour about 2 cups of hot water over the paper. Repeat this process until the blender is halfway full. Cover the blender and set it at a low speed. Mix the paper and water until it reaches a pulpy consistency. If the blender gets sluggish, add a bit more water.

Carefully take the pulp outside. Spread newspaper on a flat surface, and place a towel or rag over it. Set it aside for a moment.

Place a window screen in a pan or on a baking sheet. Pour the pulp over the window screen. Wiggle the screen back and forth until the pulp coats it. Gently lift the screen from the pan or sheet, and allow any excess pulp to drip off.

Set the screen on top of the towel and newspaper. Keep the screen’s pulpy side up. Layer a second towel or rag and more newspaper on top of the screen, creating a sandwich. Use a rolling pin or other tool to press on the sandwich from one end to another until you’ve wrung out all the water.

Spread out a third towel or rag in a warm, dry spot, and carefully place the sandwich on top of it. Allow it to dry for 24 hours. If you live in a humid place, it will probably require more time.

When the paper is completely dry, peel the newspaper and towels away. You’ve got homemade paper!

Think About It:

  • How might this method of recycling paper into new paper work for large amounts of paper?
  • Could a factory use this process?
  • What are some ways companies could change this process so they could work with recycled paper from an entire school?


During periods of drought, soil becomes salty. How does salt concentration in soil impact seed germination? Sprout radish seeds to find out!

Use three plastic deli tubs of the same size. Individually label the tubs, each with a different solution identifier: Solution 1: 1 Teaspoon; Solution 2: 2 Teaspoons; Solution 3: 3 Teaspoons.

Place a piece of paper towel or coffee filter at the bottom of each container. Sprinkle quick-sprouting radish seeds over each piece. Label three plastic cups to match the solution identifiers of each deli tub.

Prepare the solutions. Pour 1 cup of distilled water into each plastic cup. In the Solution 1 cup, add 1 teaspoon of salt. In the Solution 2 cup, add 2 teaspoons. In the Solution 3 cup, add 3 teaspoons. Stir to thoroughly dissolve the salt.

Use an eyedropper to add a small amount of each solution to its corresponding container. Make sure you completely wet each paper towel or coffee filter, but don’t drench it. Cover each container with a piece of clingwrap.

Predict what will happen over a two-week period as you tend the seeds. How will different salt solutions impact seed germination? How will the solutions affect seedlings as they begin to grow?

Place the containers in the same location, where they can receive sunlight undisturbed. Monitor the seeds each day. Write down your observations. Add more solution to each corresponding plant. After two weeks, assess and analyze your results. What are your findings about soil content’s impact on germination and growth?

Think About It:

  • What do your conclusions mean for large-scale agriculture?
  • What happens when entire farms have soil that becomes too salty?


Arctic haze is a certain kind of polar air mass. Chock-full of chemical pollutants from Canada, Eurasia, and the United States, this reddish-brown smog sometimes hangs over Alaska, creating poor air quality. What’s the air quality like where you live? Conduct this test to find out.

Choose four separate areas, both indoors and outdoors, to test the air. Indoors, you might select  your kitchen, and outdoors, target a bush or shrub.

Label one index card for each location. Your labels should match those in your science journal. Use a craft stick to spread petroleum jelly over the cards. Leave each card in a safe spot in its target area. Wait 8 hours.

To collect data, visit each location and gather its card. Use a magnifying glass to study each sample. Do you observe any particles? What color are they? Can you identify what they are? Record your findings in a notebook.

While you’re at each location, use your senses to take in your surroundings. In your journal, write your observations of the area on the correct page. Can you smell anything? Does the air feel dusty or damp? Do you see blowing sand or plant parts? Is there cigarette smoke, industrial emissions, or road construction that are affecting air quality?

Place each sample in a row. Use the magnifying glass to compare and contrast each card. Which sample is the cleanest? The dirtiest? What conclusions can you draw about the air quality?

Think About It:

  • Saharan sunsets occur when gigantic dust clouds from Africa’s Sahara Desert travel thousands of miles across the globe. These produce hazy skies, hotter temperatures, allergies—and beautiful sunsets.


  • What type of biome do you live in?
  • How does Earth sustain life?
  • How are food chains essential to life on Earth?
  • How are living things adapted for life in the coniferous forest?
  • Why are tropical rainforests called “the lungs of the planet?”
  • What changes will occur if the desert continues to be Earth’s fastest growing biome?
  • How are grasses and hooved animals adapted to thrive in wide-open spaces?
  • What happens when ecosystems change?
  • In the interconnected web of life, how do warming temperatures in the Arctic impact the planet?
  • What makes mountains different from other biomes?
  • How does ocean depth impact biodiversity?
  • What have you discovered about Earth’s vast interconnections?

More classroom resources can be found at

Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
Author: Donna Lathan
Illustrator: Tom Casteel
Published March 5th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What’s the difference between a desert and a rain forest? A tundra and a coniferous forest? These are all examples of biomes, and they are all home to plants and animals that are uniquely adapted to live in those environments!

In Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Science Activities for Kids, middle school kids journey across the planet and visit the world’s nine terrestrial and aquatic biomes to learn about the distinctive climates, geologies, resources, and organisms that can be found there. Kids will wander through forests, sizzle in deserts, shiver in the tundra, slog through marshy waters, and plunge beneath the seas to explore coral reefs. Along the way, readers will encounter the flora and fauna adapted for survival in each unique climate zone. They’ll learn about gnarly krumholz trees, bioluminescent sea creatures, camouflage, carnivorous plants, and blubbery marine critters.

The health and wellbeing of the world’s biomes are an essential part of the balance of the planet as a whole. Biomes and their inhabitants around the world are being threatened by climate change and human behavior. In Biomes, kids will learn how to take steps toward positive change and keep the environment healthy and functioning in a way that best supports sustainable life on Earth!

Biomes includes hands-on STEM activities and critical thinking exercises to encourage readers to consider threats to the environment and figure out ways to be part of the solution. Fun facts, links to online primary sources and other supplemental material, and essential questions take readers on an exploration of the biomes of Earth.

About the Author: Donna Latham is an award-winning author and playwright. She is the author of Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build YourselfBackyard Biology Investigate Habitats Outside Your Door With 25 ProjectsDeciduousForestsDesertsGarbage Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out With 25 ProjectsNorah JonesOceansRespiration and PhotosynthesisSavannas and Grasslands, and Tundra. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Society of Midland Authors. She lives in Batavia, Illinois. Website:

Thank you so much for this guest post about our amazing Earth and how it works!

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“Celebrate Biodiversity: Life + Variety = Biodiversity”

From smelly stinkhorn mushrooms to hardy tardigrades, and towering sequoia to soaring condors, and creepy anglerfish to the Hercules beetle, Earth is home to MILLIONS of known species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms of all shapes and sizes. Scientists estimate there could be millions (if not billions) more species that have not yet been identified.

Biodiversity is present everywhere on the planet including some pretty extreme places: near volcanoes, at the deepest parts of the ocean, in the sand, in hot springs and mud pots, in the ice, and even under the ice. And consider this – wherever you are at this moment you are in the company of hundreds or maybe even thousands of other species growing, squiggling, flying, reproducing, wriggling, feeding, and thriving.

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth explores genetic, species, and ecosystem biodiversity and how each species, no matter how large or how small, has a role to play. It is all CONNECTED. As John Muir once wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

These interconnections make our planet mighty, yet also fragile and vulnerable. Writing and researching Biodiversity gave me an increased appreciation for the amount, variety, and complexity of life on our planet. Unfortunately, I am also now even more aware of the many threats to biodiversity. The time for action is now. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Unless,” he wrote in The Lorax in 1971, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

My hope is that the book will inspire wonder in kids and raise awareness.

Wonder leads to caring (hopefully a lot!).

And if kids care, they will act.

Starred review from Booklist:

“By book’s end, readers will truly understand what biodiversity is, its importance to the health of the planet, and humans’ impact on the complex natural systems where it thrives.”

Activity: Explore Biodiversity

To start the discussion about biodiversity, generate a list as a group of five examples of each of the following: plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms. This list will ultimately spark conversations. Next, challenge students to research and discover one species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms they’ve never heard of. To generate even more interest, challenge them to find the most unique or bizarre species they can. Their findings can be shared in any number of formats, including a museum-style gallery walk, an online slide show, or a “show and tell.”

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are the similarities between the all plants discovered? What are the differences?
  2. What would happen if one of the animals students researched disappeared?
  3. What role do the fungi play in the ecosystem?
  4. Bacteria are often thought of as something to get rid of. What do you think the larger results of this might be?
  5. How do you feel about the microorganisms all around you?

Activity: Get Involved

There are many ways for students to get involved to support biodiversity. One is to protect or create new habitats.

Today, the populations of pollinators are in decline, especially butterflies and bees. Much of this is due to habitat loss and poisoning as a result of pesticide use in agriculture. To support pollinators, conservationists are encouraging people to plant pollinator gardens at home, work, school, and in the community.

Start by identifying a place where kids can plant a garden. If space is an issue, consider using a large pot or a planter outside a window because they will attract pollinators too! The next step is to research the types of pollinators in your area. Then research types of plants that these pollinators are attracted to. Try to find a variety of plants that flower throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Perhaps go talk to a local expert or invite one into the classroom. Draw plans for the gardens and plant in the spring. As the garden grows, record observations about the growth and about the species that visit the garden.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How many different species have you observed in your garden? Do certain pollinators like specific types of flowers?
  2. There is a lot going on above the soil. Did you ever consider what is going on below the soil? What kinds of species may be living there? Are they harmful to the garden or helpful?
  3. What would it take to launch a local effort to create pollinator gardens? Could you educate neighbors about planting their own gardens? Can you convince the school to set aside a larger area for a garden? How about in the community?

Activity: Celebrate Biodiversity!

Understanding and appreciating biodiversity are a critical part of the effort to protect it. Kids can play a key role in raising awareness about the threats to biodiversity. Have kids create a piece of visual art that celebrates biodiversity. It can celebrate the biodiversity around the world, just in your community, unseen biodiversity, or biodiversity in a single ecosystem. Each student should choose their own medium – painting, sculpture, collage, photograph, or whatever interests them. The goal is to create a piece that celebrates the variety and value of life on Earth, and to make others stop to think as well.

Consider places where the artwork can be displayed – in the school, community centers, churches, other gathering places, or even online. Invite family and friends to view the pieces. International Day for Biological Diversity is May 22, but, of course, you can celebrate any day.

Questions for discussion:

  1. As you worked on your piece, did you slow down and spend more time thinking about biodiversity?
  2. What was the reaction to the pieces from others?
  3. Have you been inspired to do even more to raise awareness of the issues facing biodiversity? What else can you do?

More teaching resources for Biodiversity at

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
Author: Laura Perdew
Illustrator: Tom Casteel
Published March 5th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: From the tallest tree to the smallest microbe, Earth is home to more than 1.5 million known species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms. And scientists estimate there could be millions, if not billions, more that have not yet been identified!

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Activities for Kids introduces middle schoolers to the evolution of life on Earth, beginning with the first single-celled organisms that emerged 3.8 billion years ago to the complex, multi-celled organisms that exist today and make up the tree of life. Biodiversity is found everywhere on the planet—on land, in the water, and even in extreme environments such as ice and volcanoes. There are actually entire microbiomes beneath our feet, in puddles, and even in our belly buttons!

Biodiversity includes hands-on STEM activities and critical thinking exercises to encourage readers to consider the threat to biodiversity and figure out ways to be part of the solution. Fun facts, links to online primary sources and other supplemental material, and essential questions take readers on an exploration of the incredible biodiversity on Earth.

About the Author: Laura Perdew is an author, writing consultant, and former middle school teacher. She has written more than 15 books for the education market on a wide range of subjects, including the animal rights movement, the history of the toilet, eating local, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She is a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators. Laura lives in Boulder, Colorado.


Thank you, Laura, for this wonderful post about our amazing Earth!

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If I Were a Park Ranger
Author: Catherine Stier
Illustrator: Patrick Corrigan
Published April 1st, 2019 by Albert Whitman Company

Summary: If you were a national park ranger, you’d spend every day in one of the most treasured places in America. You’d have an amazing job protecting animals, the environment, and our country’s natural and historical heritage, from the wilds of Denali to the Statue of Liberty!

About the Creators:

As a child, Catherine Stier wanted to be an author or park ranger. She visited her first national park as a baby and has been a fan ever since. She is the author of If I Were President and several other award-winning picture books, and has worked as a magazine writer, newspaper columnist, writing instructor, and children’s literature researcher. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and volunteers with programs that connect families and children with nature and the outdoors. To learn more, and to download free activity sheets and curriculum guides, visit her website:

Patrick Corrigan was born in the north of England and grew up drawing and designing. After University, he was an art director in a design studio for nearly ten years. He now lives in London with his wife and cat, illustrating children’s books. See more of his work at

Review: What a great informational text about National Parks and the park rangers that take care of them! The text did a wonderful job introducing not only the National Parks and all the different ones throughout the country but also all of the amazing things that park rangers do to take care of these national treasures. I was most impressed by how it was all inclusive of all the different types of jobs that keep the parks going as well as all the different types of parks that can be visited. The text, filled with information, along with the colorful illustrations bring it all to life for the reader and keeps them engaged in a way that other non-narrative informational texts struggle with sometimes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

2019’s National Park Week is April 20-28th, and If I Were a Park Ranger is a perfect read aloud for the week! It would be perfect for when a class is learning about Theodore Roosevelt or any other founder of National Parks also.

The author’s website also includes activity pages for the book:!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What National Park would you want to visit?
  • What does it take to be a park ranger?
  • What type of person do you think would succeed the most as a park ranger?
  • How does science fit into a park ranger’s job? Technology? Engineering? Math? Art?
  • What is the author’s purpose for creating the text?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: National Parks, Nature, Conservation

Recommended For: 



Ten lucky winners will receive a copy of If I Were A Park Ranger by Catherine Stier. One Grand Prize winner will receive a signed copy of the book PLUS a Park Ranger Stuffed Doll, a “National Park Geek” Iron-on Patch, National Park Animal Cookies, Camping Stickers, Woodland Animal Mini Notebook, and Book Cover Postcards! Winners will be selected at random and notified via email. One entry per person, please. US addresses only. Entries are due by 5/3/19. Follow this link to enter!


**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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“Talking Trash!”

Life with kids is pretty busy, and it can be easy to forget to consider the environment with every purchase we make. Bottled water, individual snack packages, and upgraded devices all seem like the standard price we pay for being parents and educators in modern society, but in fact, the garbage we produce from this lifestyle has an impact that lasts far longer than—or just as long as—a laminated piece of child’s artwork.

What have you tossed in the trash today? A gnawed apple core? A plastic straw? A tattered handbag? A piece of furniture?

We throw tons of garbage away every day. Anywhere you find people, you’ll find garbage—mounds and mounds of it. A gyre of plastic trash floats in the middle of the ocean. Garbage is even marooned on the surface of the moon.

Usually, we don’t realize how much stuff we throw away. In just one year, an average family of four in the United States churns out 6,351 pounds of waste. That’s enough to fill a three-bedroom house to the ceiling.

And where does all that trash go? It doesn’t simply disappear, as much as we’d like to think so. Even the stuff that gets lugged to the landfill requires a careful process of sorting and arranging so that the runoff and off-gassing doesn’t make us ill. Or it might get burned and filtered to reduce the amount of toxins that are released into the atmosphere.

But still—our oceans fill with plastic, which gets eaten by marine life. Our highways and back roads are lined with litter. Our beaches are minefields of trash.

However! Through effort and education, we can make a difference and be part of the cleanup. And we owe it to our kids to model behaviors that will result in positive changes to the world—such as reducing the amount of trash we create! While the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are critical in our quest to make Earth healthy, there’s another R of equal importance—Rethink. Rethink the way you make purchases and the way you use what you have. This is an incredibly important lesson for kids to see acted out on a daily basis.

To help, try these environmental activities with the children in your life!


What’s in your rubbish? For one week, track and record every item your family discards. Be very careful because trash can contain broken or sharp objects.

  • Use a scale to weigh three large empty plastic tubs. Record the weights in a science journal.
  • Reuse cardboard, index cards, or scratch paper to make three labels for the tubs: “Trash,” “Reusable,” “Recyclable.” Attach the labels to the tubs.
  • For one week, become your family’s garbage collector. Put on rubber gloves to rummage through every item of trash. Be on the lookout for broken or sharp items and handle with care. Categorize each as trash, reusable, or recyclable. Place each article in the appropriate container.
  • At the end of the week, weigh each tub of stuff. Subtract the original weight of the empty tub from the total and record how much waste each tub has.
  • Compare and contrast your totals with those published by the EPA. Did each person in your household produce about 31. pounds of garbage, which is the national average?
  • Challenge your family to cut down your amount of garbage. Rethink your trash choices. What can you reuse or recycle, instead of discarding? If you get a composter, you can compost food waste.
  • A month from now, try this activity again to observe your success. Are your results different?


Has your old T-shirt seen better days? No need to let it die. Dye it instead! Next time your family boils colorful veggies, don’t dump the water. Use it to brew natural dyes the way colonists and pioneers did. Then, use those dyes to jazz up your shirt and give it new life.

Choose your color. Beets will make red. Carrots produce orange. Gold onions make yellow, red cabbage produces purple, and spinach gives you green. Put the vegetables in a pot, cover with water, and boil them. Drain the liquid and strain out any solid bits. Store the liquid in a glass jar until you’re ready to dye the shirt.

Before you use your colored liquid, you’ll need to make sure the dye will set in the fabric. Pour 4 cups of cold water and 1 cup of vinegar into a large pot. Place the T-shirt into the mixture. Then, put the pot on the stove and simmer the shirt for a full hour. Check on it now and then to make sure the mixture doesn’t boil away. After an hour, remove the shirt and rinse it in cold water.

Now you’re ready to work with your dye. Return the pot and T-shirt to the stove and pour in the colored water. Simmer again. When you are happy with the color of the shirt, turn off the heat. Wear rubber gloves to handle the shirt because dye stains skin. The color will dry a few shades lighter than it looks in the pot. Hint: When it’s time to launder your shirt, wash it separately in cold water. The dye will last longer and won’t stain anything else.


It’s fun to get a card or package in the mail. But junk mail? Not so much. You don’t ask for junk mail, but it shows up anyway. It’s usually advertising materials such as catalogs, flyers, credit card applications, and even CDs. One credit card company sends out materials in a fancy gold box with a plastic window, two Styrofoam bumpers, and five individual flyers inside! According to the New York University School of Law, most families in the United States receive 848 pieces of junk mail annually. About 46 percent is never even opened. Many people toss it straight into the trash, so about 5.6 million tons of the stuff clogs landfills.

Reuse junk mail to create colorful trash-to-treasure paper beads for a necklace.

Hint: Reuse clasps from broken jewelry. You can also string pearls, beads, and charms along with your completed paper beads.

Collect all the mail your family receives for one week. Make one pile of regular mail and one of junk mail. Tally the number of pieces in each, and record your totals in your science journal. Weigh each pile and jot down those totals. How do they compare?

Place the junk mail into categories of your choice. For example, make piles of catalogs, advertisements, flyers, or magazine subscription offers. How many pieces are in each pile? Note your findings.

Now it’s time to reuse! First decide how long you’d like your necklace to be. Measure a length of thin cord or fishing line and cut it.

Create a template with a piece of cardboard. Draw a triangular shape 1 inch wide at its base and 6 inches long. Cut out the template and use it to trace about 30 strips on glossy paper from your junk mail. Cut out the strips. If you discover later that you need more beads, then come back to this step.

Firmly wrap the wide end of the first strip around a wooden skewer or chopstick and roll the strip toward the pointed end. The tighter the paper, the more decorative the bead. When you have about 2 inches of bead left to roll, use a glue stick to swipe the remaining length.

Finish rolling the bead and hold it firmly in place until the glue sets. Carefully remove the bead from the stick and set aside. Repeat with all the strips until you’ve made all the beads.

For strong, durable beads, seal them with a coat of decoupage glue, or Elmer’s glue with water added. This makes a nice finish. You might find it’s easier to apply glue if you place each bead back on the skewer tip first. After applying the glue, set each bead aside to dry.

Tightly tie a metal clasp to an end of the fishing line. When the beads are dried and feel firm to the touch, string them on the line. Once the line is completely full, tightly attach the other clasp. Enjoy your junk mail jewelry!

Discussion questions:

Why does it matter where our garbage goes after we throw it out?

Do you produce more inorganic or organic waste?

How has garbage dumping changed throughout history?

What role do landfills play in solid-waste management?

How does hazardous waste cause problems in landfills and the environment?

How will you recycle and reduce to limit what you dump into the waste stream?

How can you use creativity and ingenuity to reuse items?

How will you challenge yourself to recycle more?

How can you rethink choices to develop a waste-reduction action plan?

About the Author: Donna Latham is an award-winning author and playwright. She is the author of Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build YourselfBackyard Biology Investigate Habitats Outside Your Door With 25 ProjectsDeciduousForestsDesertsGarbage Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out With 25 ProjectsNorah JonesOceansRespiration and PhotosynthesisSavannas and Grasslands, and Tundra. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Society of Midland Authors. She lives in Batavia, Illinois. Website:

About the Book: That potato chip bag you tossed in your trash can this afternoon—where does it go when it leaves your house?

Garbage: Follow the Path of Your Trash with Environmental Science Activities for Kids invites middle graders to investigate the world of trash! The average American produces more than four pounds of trash every day—multiply that by 300 million people and you’ve got a lot of garbage! Where does it go? How does it break down? What are the challenges of dealing with so much waste? What can we do decrease the amount of stuff we are throwing away? Garbage explores questions like these while encouraging kids to think about the choices they make that generate garbage in the first place.

Try these hands-on environmental projects!

  • Investigate a mini midden
  • String a junk mail bead necklace
  • Snag air pollution on a stick-it can

More information including free teacher resources at 

Thank you to Donna for her important and thought-provoking post!

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A Brief History of Life on Earth
Creator: Clémence Dupont
Published March 19th, 2019 by Prestel Junior

Summary: The story of life on earth unfolds in dramatic fashion in this amazing picture book that takes readers from 4.6 billion years ago to the present day.

It’s difficult to grasp the enormous changes life on Earth has undergone since it first came into existence, but this marvelously illustrated book makes learning about our planet’s fascinating history easy and entertaining. In an accordion style, the series of pages take readers through every major geological period, with bright artwork and detailed drawings. Opening on lava-filled oceans and smoking volcanoes, the book unfolds, era by era, to show how life evolved from tiny protozoa and crustaceans to dinosaurs and mammals.

Fully expanded to 8 meters (26 feet), this spectacular visual timeline is a very impressive panorama that reveals evolution in all its glory. Each page is brimming with illustrations that readers will turn to again and again. A celebration of life, this extraordinary and beautiful book illuminates the history of Earth for young readers in an unforgettable and delightful way.

About the Author: Clémence Dupont is an illustrator living in Strasbourg, France. This is her first book.

Review: This book is so beautiful, useful, and just plain neat! First, I love that it folds out (as does Trent!):

When folded out, it reaches 26 feet with one side showing the images created by the author for each of the time periods while the other side has a timeline which is to scale showing how long respectively each time period was.

This book is a work of art. How each time period stands alone yet also is part of the entire timeline when folded out is beautiful to see. Additionally, I adore the artist’s technique of art with rough edges and bright colors.

Each spread focuses on one time period and the life on Earth at the time with a brief write up in the bottom left corner; however, many of the organisms/animals/plants not mentioned in the paragraph are labeled allowing readers to jump into inquiry about them if they wish.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Did anyone else do the activity in elementary school where the teacher had the class convert the miles(?) between planets into centimeters then had the class create a to-scale solar system showing just how far apart the planets are? This book reminds me of that activity in that it shows the true expanse of time Earth has existed versus the very small time humans have. I would use this timeline to create a similar to-scale idea for students to show the history of life on Earth.

Also, as I stated above, each time period only has a brief write up and leaves much to research if one is interested.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What surprised you about the history of life on Earth?
  • What did the timeline on the back show you about the history of life on Earth?
  • When did dinosaurs appear? When did the first human ancestor appear? (etc.)
  • What animal surprised you that has been around a long time?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose in creating the book in this structure?
  • How did the Earth change from one period to the next? Take two periods and compare and contrast them.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Animals, Biology, Geology, Earth’s history

Recommended For: 


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Make This!: Building, Thinking and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You
Author: Ella Schwartz
Published February 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: This book is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and supports all kinds of kid creators: those who prefer guided instruction, those who prefer to dream up and design objects on their own, and everyone in between. Within the nearly 160 pages of this book kids get the tools and the know-how to tackle all kinds of exciting projects: building a kaleidoscope, designing a fidget spinner, planting a rain forest, creating a musical instrument, and more. Unconventional scenarios inspired by real National Geographic Explorers give kids a chance to think outside the box and apply their maker skills to real life. Chapters are divided up by scientific principle, such as simple machines, energy, and forces. In each chapter, kids can start by following step-by-step activities, or get creative by tackling an open-ended challenge. Helpful sidebars explain the science behind what’s happening every step of the way.

My Review: My son loves this book so much that he took it for show-and-tell at his preschool. The teacher liked it so much that she purchased a copy for the classroom. This is a phenomenal book with loads of hands-on, easy-to-do activities. Many of the activities use materials that were available in my house (or easy to acquire). The first project my son completed was the straw rocket. He used two straws, some tape, and some paper to draw his own rocket and shoot it into the air. He has folded down the corners of almost every project as his next to-do. I love how the book is sectioned off into scientific principles. This even impressed my engineer husband. The sidebars allow me to read about the science behind the project as my son is constructing it. It is a wonderful book for learning. Although the book is marketed to ages 8-12, my 5-year-old was able to complete the projects with my help. I think 8-12-year-olds will appreciate this book just as much and be able to self-create.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book just screams for use in classrooms. It makes science learning incredibly fun. I can see it in classrooms as young as preschool and all the way through elementary school. The concepts can be scaffolded to the age of the learners, and the projects range in difficulty level.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which scientific principle(s) do you enjoy learning about? Which projects taught you a lot about the principle?
  • Which real-life things (e.g. airplanes, hydraulic systems) relate to these scientific projects?

Read This If You Love: Science Books; Engineering Books; National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before You Grow UpMastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Animal Atlas

Recommended For: 



**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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