Through their curriculum, Little Calhouners are learning to take action. Each year, kindergarten teachers lead their students through an in-depth interdisciplinary study born from a shared group interest. Recently, one cluster’s study of sustainability inspired students to take on the charge of demanding change in their families and communities.
The study began when a student raised concern over the use of single-use plastic in the classroom. It soon became clear that the entire cluster was passionate about the topic, and so the teachers quickly got to work, using sustainability as a lens to explore various disciplines.
This kindergarten project made connections to math as the class began tracking single-use plastic items delivered via food orders, and creating graphs and charts based on the data. They further practiced numeracy skills by calculating how much waste would be saved annually by changing just one daily habit, such as switching to a reusable cup for coffee each morning. Later, the group created a scoring system for restaurants based on how environmentally friendly they were—on a 1–5 “Earth” scale. Little Calhouners also delved into science by welcoming guests into the classroom to discuss what it means for an item to be biodegradable and why those materials are better for the Earth than plastics. Kindergartners even conducted an experiment to test the pH of water from 14 different water companies and the classroom’s tap water to shed light on how the use of single-use plastic water bottles not only creates waste, but may be harmful to those consuming its contents.
Students turned to their library for resources, reading books like The Lorax by Dr. Suess and Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers, which discuss such environmental issues like deforestation and waste. Writing was also an important component of the project, as students journaled about their work and penned letters to restaurants advocating for the reduction of plastic. The topic allowed the class to expand their social studies exploration of change-makers by turning their focus to environmentalists. Calhouners learned about 10-year-old activist Mari Copeny, otherwise known as “Little Miss Flint,” who has been outspoken about the water crisis in Michigan. They reflected on the life of Wangari Mathaai, founder of The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, and how she became an unlikely hero for environmental conservation.
Inspired by their work, students learned that their actions could have a greater impact— starting with their families. Parents took notice of their children’s conviction and took it upon themselves to make their lives a little greener, such as investing in biodegradable containers for their businesses or being more selective about the restaurants they frequented. Some families even used their time during spring break for environmental activism, participating in a beach cleanup and advocating for the reduction of single-use plastics at a popular chain of hotels.
With parents onboard, these kindergartners set their sights on reaching an even broader audience through the creation of a documentary. Using all of the research they had done, they wrote a script for their film, choosing to focus on the effects of single-use plastics on the environment and marine life, as well as ways to reduce use and dependence. Their documentary is a testament to their depth of study and a true display of the collaboration that allowed this project to flourish.
Through their work, kindergartners learned what could happen when they investigated a topic deeply. And since they were given the space to follow their curiosity, their work has added up to much more than a single project – it has been a vehicle for empowerment. Students have already seen at such a young age that spreading knowledge can be a catalyst for meaningful change, and that is something they will take with them into the future.