How can people around the globe receive clean and sustainable energy in a way that minimizes harm to the planet?
Energy is among 17 global goals children ages 4 through 7 are thinking about each week as part of a digital book club for preschool and kindergarten children at Continental Elementary School District.
The Caring Colts Sustainability Development Goals Book Group lets young children and their parents explore sustainability every week from their computers. It has also served as a way for kids to interact during the summer.
The online book and activity club began as an expansion of what Preschool Director Jennifer Lichtsinn was doing with her students when in-person classes halted.
“When they closed schools and we all went home I started doing preschool every day on the computer with the kids,” she said. “I’d try different things just to get them involved, little ways to make them feel connected and I kept trying to find ways to make them engaged.”
Parent Kristin Wisneski-Blum participated in Lichtsinn’s online story time with her daughter Matilda, 5, and was inspired to create a digital book club incorporating her area of expertise; sustainability.
“The online story time was such a great thing in an unfortunate situation and the kids were so happy to see one another on the little Zoom squares that it gave me the initial inspiration,” she said. “I work with children but have never worked with elementary-age children in a group setting as an environmental educator so I’m so grateful to have Jenny’s partnership.”
The group uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal Book Club and associated book list to help come up with books and focus topics alongside several other book resources.
Each week, one of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals takes center stage for the Caring Colts.
Wisneski-Blum said the subject matter of the goals can be "heavy," such as “No poverty,” the first goal the group explored. So, they work to make global topics approachable and actionable to young people.
“There’s this motto from one of my previous jobs: ‘think global, lead local,’ and that's what we’re trying to do,” she said. “When communicating these topics to a young person you don't want to scare them and don't want them to feel bad so it has to be solution-oriented.”
Lichtsinn has over 30 years of teaching know-how to engage young minds and incorporates puppets, songs and two book readings per meeting to drive the lessons home.
“I try to be a voice of, ‘OK, but they're little. Here's what it looks like for a 3-year-old,” she said. “We make it big and then small — here's what you can do.”
Parent LeAnn Lane and her daughter Lillian have been participants since day one.
“It’s good to see her (Lillian) picking up on the songs now and we discuss quite a bit after the group about the different topics,” Lane said. “There's certain things she still remembers, like there was a practice to de-stress where you pretend to blow up a balloon and pop it. That’s still something we use probably on a daily basis.”
Having a way for her daughter to interact with others has kept them from feeling isolated and Lane has gained a new confidence in online/distance learning.
“It's been a really good learning experience for her as well as myself considering we will probably be doing some kind of online school next year,” she said. “I was dreading going into online learning and now I’m feeling like it could actually be a good thing.”
Along with book readings and the focus area, children learn about a new animal each week through Wisneski-Blum's husband Brett Blum, a wildlife biologist.
The group also explore local weather, have activity ideas, like solar ovens, and follow-up emails so families can continue interacting with the topics.
The Caring Colts has committed to covering each of the 17 UN goals and are currently on goal seven. They plan to wrap it up the second week of September but are already exploring the possibility of opening up the group for more children as an after-school program.
Lichtsinn loves that the group gives students the opportunity to express themselves.
“It's nice to see the kids empowered,” she said. “It's important to have children’s voices present and for them to be able know more things about the world.”
Though the topics are big, Wisneski-Blum said these children can take this knowledge into the future with them.
“Expanding a child's worldview only creates more opportunities for great things to happen,” she said. “They may someday be local and global leaders because they have a worldview that allows them to understand how wonderful the world is but that there are major challenges we can all work on together.”
The group meets via Zoom on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and it usually lasts 30 to 35 minutes.
Parents of Continental students in preschool and kindergarten can join in by signing up at www.bit.ly/2OCChG5. The current schedule ends Sept. 22.