Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

When Brooklyn Children’s Museum was renovated in 2008, all new bathrooms were fitted with low-flow water features. In fact, our boy’s bathrooms even have completely waterless urinals!

The water conservation exhibit helps kids understand the need for low flow by talking about just how much water is used by common features. Kids turn a know, pull a lever, or press a button and find out how much water is used by a bath or a shower.

One popular comparison is between an open fire hydrant and a fire hydrant with a sprinkler cap. The former (displayed on the left) uses a shocking 1,000 gallons per minute of water! That is so much water that it is both wasteful and dangerous – this much water causes decreased water pressure to nearby buildings, a problem in the case of a real fire.

To prevent this problem, you can go to your neighborhood firehouse and ask them to install a sprinkler cap (displayed on the right). Hydrants with sprinkler caps use only 15 gallons of water per minute, a huge reduction.

To learn more, check out the water conservation exhibit, on the Lower Level, across from Fantasia in the Science Inquiry Center.

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What a fantastic question! New York City uses over one billion gallons of water every day. That essential water comes to us via aqueducts that connect us to two different watersheds – the Croton watershed just up the Hudson and the Catskill / Delaware Watershed Area further upstate.

(A watershed is all the land whose water feeds through tributaries into a given larger body of water, like a lake, river, or bay. Therefore, the Croton watershed is all the area whose water, including rain water and snow melt, eventually flows into the Croton River.)

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for overseeing the quality of our water, including working with upstate authorities to keep our aqueducts full of clean water (emphasis on both full and clean).

If you’re explaining this to students, its a great idea to talk about what these upstate reservoirs are like. You most likely have students who have never been to another part of New York state. To help them envision the scene, read the first few pages of Water Dance by Thomas Locker. This beautifully illustrated book is set in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the  region where our water originates.

After reading Water Dance, have a conversation with students about what would happen if people took too much water from the lake for wasteful purposes – would rain replace every drop we took? Would it change the natural landscape shown in the book? Then, ask students what they might do to use only the water they need from the lakes and reservoirs upstate. Students who aware of the source of our water and understand that it is not, in fact, an unlimited resource are more likely to appreciate the need to conserve water.

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We’ve talked a lot about water in this blog, but it should be said that before kids can understand water conservation, they have to understand just how much water they use on a daily basis. Here’s an activity borrowed from our educator’s guide, My Green Community, to help kids keep track of water use.

People often don’t realize how much water they use on a daily basis. Try asking a 4 year-old, “Have you used water today?” Unless he or she has had a drink of water, the answer will be no, until you explicitly ask, “what about brushing your teeth or washing your hands?!”

Ask the class to brainstorm, then draw or list all the ways they have used water today. The following day, have students keep track of these things throughout the day. This is a great opportunity to introduce tallying. How many times a day do they turn on a faucet or drink from a fountain? Have students carry around a sheet and tally these activities throughout the day.

After students are in the habit of keeping track of daily water use, extend the activity to include products that need water to grow or function properly. For example, rain water helped grow the banana you are eating and irrigation helped grow the cotton used to make your t-shirt. Water cools the engine of the bus or car you rode to school. Once students realize how omnipresent water is in their daily lives, they will be more mentally prepared for talk about water conservation.

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In New York, the water cycle is taught in 4th grade, although in practice it often happens earlier than that. Students are taught that due to a series of forces, water cycles through the Earth and never disappears.

Water Cycle - blank

The problem with this explanation of the water cycle is that it doesn’t quite account for water conservation – if water is infinitely recycled throughout the Earth, then what’s the danger of taking a 30 minute shower? I didn’t “waste” the water because it can never go away!

This very valid question requires a more nuanced understanding of the water cycle. Yes, it is the case that water never disappears from the Earth. However, human beings do still “use” water with potentially negative consequences, including the following:

  • The water that evaporates does not necessarily fall down straight where it evaporated. Water moves through the air. If individuals living the desert use up all their groundwater to water artificial lawns, the water that evaporates will rain on a different part of the world and the desert town will be even drier than it was before.
  • When humans interact with water, they run the risk of polluting the water. Whether its poop, fertilizers, soap, or something else, every time we use water to flush our toilets, water our plants, or wash our hands, we add chemicals to the water. Those then have to be filtered out before the water can be safely returned to the rivers, lakes, and oceans around us. This process of treating the water is time consuming and expensive. The less water you use, the less treatment is needed, the more water is available for future use by humans, other animals, or plants.

Like many things we teach children, the water cycle is both simple and complicated. Giving students a more complicated picture of water will help them understand the semi-paradox that no water ever disappears, and yet we can waste water.

Tomorrow, we will return to the water cycle with a great water cycle game for students of all ages.

PS: For a water cycle resource for early childhood, check out Round the Garden, which tells the story of the water cycle through gardening.

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A great starting point for preparing students to be conservationists is The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

This book tells the story of the Once-ler, who chops down all the Truffula Trees, and the Lorax, who tries to prevent their destruction. “I am the Lorax,” he says, “I speak for the trees.”

I have read the book many times since I was a child, and it really does speak to every age. The Lorax will get students to think about resource depletion and conservation, taking the perspective of the Lorax who protects the trees even when no one else will.

After reading the book, ask students what resources they need to live and to try to imagine a world without those things.  Perhaps they have lived in or visited places where there was not enough clean water; what was that like? Explain to them that a conservationist, like the Lorax, is someone who protects natural resources and that if enough of the people in the world become conservationists, they can work together to take care of plants, animals, and other natural resources.

Also, if movies help get your kids excited, The Lorax will soon be an animated film (with a promising cast of voice actors).

For more ideas on conservation, check out Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s educator’s guide, My Green Community.

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We hear the word “green” a lot. We hear it so much that it almost loses all meaning and we risk “greenwashing” everything, failing to be able to distinguish between actions and ideas that are truly positive for the environment and those that merely claim to be good.

To help prepare students to make careful environmental choices as they grow up, we can teach them the concepts from an early age and then allow them to decide what is truly sustainable and what is mere greenwashing.

Let’s start with some definitions. In My Green Community, we state that “green refers to all things related to environmental and sustainable education.”

In Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s family guide, we alternately defined green in the following way for kids:

What is green? It’s not just a color. Green can be an action too – “being green” means taking care of nature and not wasting things like energy, food and water. All things that are good for the Earth are called “green.” In this way, we use the word “green” to mean “sustainable.”

There are, thus, two large foci of green education: nature and sustainability.

A leaf from a Ginkgo tree: native to Brooklyn

Nature refers to the elements of the Earth not created or significantly changed by human beings. This includes wildlife, both plants and animals. My Green Community includes activities about birds, insects, trees and plants. Nature also includes geology, the study of the Earth, including rocks, minerals, geologic formations and bodies of water. Study of nature at a young age sets the stage for the study of ecology for older learners. Ecology is the study of the environment, ecosystems, how the elements of the natural world interact with each other. This blog will have entries on nature, expanding the information covered in My Green Community, and covering new topics we didn’t have the space to explore there.

Solar panels at the Brooklyn Children's Museum are a sustainable source of energy

Sustainability has been defined by the United Nations as being able to “meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” In other words, acting sustainably means taking care of yourself and taking care of the Earth for many generations to come. The key concept is conservation; preserving the Earth’s natural resources for as long as possible. My Green Community has an introduction to concepts of sustainability, including water conservation, energy conservation, food consumption and waste management. It is not necessary to employ the term sustainability for young students to understand the concept; you could talk to them about reducing waste or preserving nature.

What other terms do you need help defining? How would you improve or amend our definitions? Add your thoughts in the comments section!

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