How did they carry out the best practice?

We come from a very beautiful, historically and culturally rich city, but also a city that is unfortunately very polluted, especially in winter time, due to our geographical location and the lack of environmentally friendly source of heating and traffic. Every winter, for weeks sometimes even months we hit the top ten list of most polluted cities in the world. During those days we cannot take children outside due to severe air pollution. We are talking about the children aged 6 months to 6 years. This winter they were complaining and asking why they couldn’t go outside. So we decided to organize a little laboratory in our kindergarten and do a project to teach them all about pollution and then we could continue to use this space for all sorts of science projects.

We had the idea of combining 2 groups (4 years and 5-6 years) in order to have older children help and assist younger during the experiments. Our goal was to help children understand the basic concepts of pollution, the causes of pollution and the state of pollution in our city. We wanted to raise awareness and understanding of human impact on pollution.We started by reading a picture book Lorax, that talks about man made pollution and its affect on life on Earth. Then, we organized several activities and experiments to help them understand and learn from practical, hands on examples. In order to help children understand that the air outside is toxic even if we do not see it, we carried out a few experiments. First we observed the air with the flash light and that helped us see dust in the air. Since our city is very foggy in winter time, we have learnt that combination of fog and smoke make smog. We observed different sources of smoke in our environment and then did the experiment smog in a jar in order for children to understand first how fog is created in nature and then how it turns to smog when it combines with smoke that comes from cars and heating plants. Finally we collected pm particles for 5 days and observed them under the microscope in order for them to understand that even if we can’t see pollution it is still there.

After that we carried on learning about water pollution and how it’s connected to air pollution. One of the major sources of water pollution are acid rains. We had the fortune that during the project rain started falling and our city woke up fog and pollution free. We used that moment, went outside and talked to children about the reasons why we had clean air that morning. Together we concluded that rain has cleaned our air, but that raised the question where did all those bad, dirty particles go. Again, with a little help they understood that they must have fallen to the ground and to the river. Then, we started learning about acid rains and did experiment with vinegar on how the acidity affects things around us. With the help of one of our parents who works in company that deals with water safety, we were presented children’s kit for testing water and we did a few experiments testing the acidity or ph of water (tap water, rain water, puddle water…). One of water’s qualities is its hardness which we also tested with our water quality kit and then talked about how too much salts make water hard, and also unusable for humans. Then we tested the water in which we added the vinegar to see if it would make water harder and went on to draw conclusions on how the acid rain affects our waters and life in them. Finally we made a model of our city and made up a story about Edy the fish who wants to explore our river Miljacka but finds himself in all sorts of polluted areas and realizes that he cannot live there.
in order to help Edy come back to river Miljacka we did a little experiment on how to clean water using sand, stones, soil and filters. For this we used water from our river.

At last we learnt about land pollution. Children are aware of the fact that trash is polluting the land and water as well, but we tried to explain to them that trash left outside in the wind, rain and snow, will start to leak all kinds of poisons that are toxic for plants, but also for us who eat those plants. Also one of the major pollutants is plastic, so we decided to bury a few items in our yard and dig them out in a week. While we were burying the items (plastic, wood, metal paper, orange peel) we talked about what will happen to them. We wrote down the children’s answers and after a week we dug them up, observed and made conclusions. We compared our answers before and after to see if we were right or wrong. One of the smartest deductions came from a 5 year old boy, who said that if the trash left in the ground leaks toxins didn’t we do a bad thing by burying our trash. We explained that he was absolutely right and that we will never do it again. Our discussion led us on to talk about recycling and the importance of not making unnecessary waist. At that moment we came back to the picture book Lorax from the beginning of our project. The main idea and the message of the book is that people use natural resources to make a lot of things they don’t really need and in the process of that they destroy the environment. We used that moment and started talking how we could do more for our environment and do we buy things we don’t really need. We asked children how many toys do they have at home, are those toys plastic, do they play with all those toys or are they just sitting in the bins and shelves. Then, we made a pact and promised that since they have enough toys they won’t ask their parents to buy them any more toys, only on birthdays and at kindiergarten they will be more careful not to break or lose toys, so we won’t be buying new ones and that is how we will help save our environment from more pollution.

The final stage of our project was learning about agricultural pollution. We know that we have to eat, we also know that our food comes from farms, but we didn’t know anything about how farming is polluting the environment.

We showed them pictures of farms, fertilizers, pesticides and explained them that farmers use these things in order to make sure that their crops will grow and that insects won’t harm them. But this kind of practice contributes to pollution, because fertilizers and pesticides are toxic for the soil and water. Fortunately the scientists have come up with a way to grow a lot of food safely and it’s cold hydroponics.That is growing food without soil or fertilizers or pesticides. In order to make this more clear we decided to grow some lettuce in an improvised hydroponic vessel.
In our local garden and pet store we bought everything we needed and started the project with the aim to tech children the process of hydroponic, sustainable food growing and to encourage them to start growing food with their parents at home.

From the beginning we wanted to teach children about pollution, especially air pollution so we could help them understand why are we stuck inside, why do we carry face masks and how the humans are contributing to the destruction of our home planet. In the end, it turned out that children have learnt so much more. We did learn about pollution, what causes it, why people are destroying the environment, but the most important thing is that we helped raise awareness, that the children understood what kinds of behavior and actions cause further destruction and what are the steps to take in order to prevent it. These children are very young, they cannot make any significant impact, but this is just the right time for them to learn these lessons and carry them through out their lives. It was amazing to see how much more careful they were with their toys, reminding each other not to break anything because we have to take care of the things we have and not to buy any more of them. Their way of thinking and conclusions they came up after doing the experiments was truly amazing and it was evident that they were understanding the concepts of pollution and its causes like real scientists making connections and evidence based conclusions.

Link to materials