Humans and the Environment Toolkit
This toolkit guides youth, educators, group leaders, families, and community groups as they investigate the issue of humans interacting with the environment and prepare to take action. Contents:
- Current story
- Key questions
- Lessons and activities
- Resources in your community
- Project ideas and guide to service-learning
Climate Action and Environmental Stewardship
The gift we give back to the generous Earth is our care and advocacy for its health. We can pay attention to its beauty and act as stewards of the Earth every day. Each young person has a voice, heart, and hands to take big and small actions for a meaningful purpose.
“We cannot continue to pollute the atmosphere, poison the ocean and exhaust the land. There isn’t any more available.” - Stephen Hawking, Physicist & Author
Share this example of youth action.
Greta Thunberg, born in 2003 in Sweden, is a world-famous environmental activist. She speaks clearly and passionately to political leaders demanding stronger action to protect and restore natural resources. She has autism, which she says at one time limited her but now is her superpower. This video she produced states that we must protect and preserve nature and stop dependence on fossil fuels because we are in a climate crisis.
Definitions and Key Questions
See the handout below for Vocabulary and Key Questions related to the environment.
As young people build knowledge and passion for environmental work, they can look up vocabulary and read more about the issues and needs. Here are some of the relevant vocabulary words.
- Climate Change
- Environmental Stewardship
Key Questions for Learning and Service:
These key questions may guide investigation or generate inquiry about other areas of interest. The best service-learning experiences follow the passions of youth and local concerns. Here are some sample questions:
- What are the environmental issues you observe in your own communities?
- What resources, like a local water treatment plant or nature preserve, spark interest in what our community does for us and what we can do for our community?
- How do you use your local natural resources?
Share these background resources to inspire and inform youth about environmental issues and actions.
- This 13-minute Environmental Justice TedX talk by Van Jones talks about the disposability culture and how it affects poor people.
- This Environmental Working Group article shares the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice.
- Background papers: This link provides a broad search of brief papers about environmental topics and their importance to philanthropy. Refine the search to your area of interest. You can add keywords, like a type of natural resource, environmental concepts, or names of people and organizations. Here are some sample papers:
- Environmental Justice in the U.S.
- Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement
- Rachel Carson
- Current Water Issues
Learning to Give has hundreds of lesson plans to inspire and inform youth action. Search our full list of environmental lesson plans for topics that fit your interests and age of your kids. Narrow your search with keywords like recycling, stewardship, water, gardening, beach, or environmental justice. Here are some sample lesson plans:
- The World Outside: Children get outside and play in nature and then share its beauty and diversity with others.
- Humans and Nature Flourishing Together: Teens explore the lessons of nature as a path to sustainability.
- Tote Challenge: After investigating the problems caused by plastic shopping bags, we design a reusable shopping tote out of an old T-shirt using engineering, problem-solving, creativity, and communication.
- Beneficial Bees: We explore the role of bees and why their population is declining.
For meaningful service-learning projects with long-lasting impact, connect youth to people and nonprofit organizations and natural resources in the local community related to their environmental area of interest. This is an opportunity for a field trip (may be virtual) or for an expert to teach about issues and what is already being done. Youth may write, call, or interview experts about needs and partnerships.
- Ask youth if they have family members whose work is related to the environment.
- Explore the unique assets in your community first. Are there rivers, forests, a nature center, or a landfill?
- National, state, or county park
- Friends of local parks foundation
- Water treatment plant or recycling center
- Animal shelter
- Local farmers
- Nature center
- Environmental or watershed action council
- Parks and recreation department
- 4-H club
- Sierra Club
There are four types of service. The ideas below are grouped by these types. The best service-learning experiences follow the passions of youth and local concerns. These are provided to start conversations and ideas.
This overview Guide for Planning Service-Learning describes each step of the process and actions to take.
This blank chart for Planning Service-Learning helps youth prepare for who does what for maximum service and learning impact
- Learn about and build a "rooftop garden" where one is needed. Plant a community garden and share the produce or flowers.
- Make a decorate a bird feeder with this Service Sparks: Bird Feeder from Recycled Materials
- Plant trees to offset your paper usage. Grow Something to Give: Grow a plant from seeds and give the plant to cheer someone's day.
- Perform an energy audit of a school or home to help people conserve energy.
- Give new life and purpose to a neglected area. Plant native plants, trees, bushes, or flowers. Weed out invasive species and beautify by weeding, pruning, and raking. Enlist the ownership of youth, families, and the community with special clean-up days organized by youth.
- Explore the impact of disposable water bottles and propose an alternative: Service Sparks: Reduce Plastics
- Interview the county water commission about storm drains. Share information about "no dumping; drains to river" on storm drains or volunteer for the community rain barrel program.
- Set up a recycle station where there isn't one following the community recycling practices and requirements.
- Join and support your school’s “green team" to organize projects and make students aware of healthy habits and actions they can take that sustain the environment.
- Write to your representative and share what you have learned about practices and laws that protect the environment.
- Write, produce, and share an informational documentary about an environmental crisis and suggest action communities can take locally.
- What does your community need related to water quality? Interview experts, take surveys, and read about how the community treats its water.
- Investigate and share information about permeable and nonporous surfaces and how they impact runoff.
- Research the problem of plastics, then investigate and propose solutions. Try our Tote Challenge lesson and activity to make reusable bags from old T-shirts.
- Be a "citizen scientist." Help scientists take a survey of the health of your ecosystem by gathering data on local quality and quantity of animals and plant life. Share this information with environmental organizations or participate in their count days.
- Learn scientific testing methods of water and soil; analyze and share data collected with other youth and leaders in the watershed.
- Research the sources and effects of lead on children and adults. Teach people the risks and how to counteract it. Ask the city for a report on lead levels for families or seniors in your community. Share the information with affected families.
The Lorax guide provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. This classic children’s tale is a timeless call to protect and preserve our natural resources. The Lorax explores the interconnected world of nature and the possible damage if we don’t act responsibly. This book demonstrates the all-too-real consequences of careless consumption and greed. The reader is challenged to develop empathy for the animals and plants who share our planet and stand up for the voiceless.
Seeds of Change literature guide provides discussion questions for this true story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Mathaai is an inspiring tale of environmental activism and the power each one of us has to help protect our world.
Ways to use quotes with youth: Use it to spark conversation. Write about its meaning or do research on the person or topic. Represent the quote visually and display in social media. Tell whether you agree or disagree with the quote. Rewrite it to speak for you.
“By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let us face it, there is no planet B.” - Emmanuel Macron, President of France
“Climate change knows no borders. It will not stop before the Pacific Islands and the whole of the international community here has to shoulder a responsibility to bring about sustainable development.” - Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
“Climate change is the single greatest threat to a sustainable future but, at the same time, addressing the climate challenge presents a golden opportunity to promote prosperity, security and a brighter future for all.” - Ban Ki-Moon, Former Secretary-General of UN
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” - Dr Jane Goodall, Scientist & Activist
“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope, but I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” - Greta Thunberg, 17 year-old Swedish Activist