Sprouting Connections with Early and Eco Literacies
Eco-literacy is ‘the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible. To be ecoliterate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities, collaboration, and using these principles for creating sustainable human communities.’ (Graham, 2018). Early literacy focuses on pre-reading and writing skills, such as learning sounds and decoding them into letters and words, and encompasses the function of learning to read itself. Within early education curriculums and programs, connecting multiple literacies together creates an effective strategy to maximize brain building and skill development. Nature learning activities and eco literacy experiences can be combined with early literacy techniques to enhance the stimulation of sensory skills and increase learning capabilities. This exciting combination of literacies can help encourage curiosity and observation skills, which can generate enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge and learning.
The field of environmental writing is wide, varied, and as nuanced as the biodiversity of the natural world of our planet . The same wellspring of information can be said for the philosophies, principles, and strategies of education and instruction. The Nature Booklist combines these fields together to offer diverse activities and books with the goal of enhancing eco literacy across age groups and curriculums.
Eco-literacy doesn’t need to involve a lot of extra time and effort, but it does require observation skills, and perhaps a particular mindfulness mindset. Look around, watch the changes in the trees, feel the wind, blow the seeds of a dandelion and watch them float away. Take notice of that flash of color and the rustling in the shrubbery - point out that bright red cardinal, sing the charming bob white song - when the peas are just right. Seek out and explore green space. After reading the book pairing of The Hidden Rainbow and Flowers are Calling, follow the activity, a Nature I Spy which is fun for everyone and can be played in countless settings. Nature observations can hone sensory skills, develop vocabulary, and inspire curiosity and action. The Keeper of the Wild Words and Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement are paired texts in the Nature Booklist that champion these ideas and will delight early readers. You can explore them here.
The need for eco-literacy has never been more urgent due to the increasing disconnect between where our food comes from and the destruction of ecosystems, species, and plant life. How can effective policies be written without deeper understanding of the consequences and interrelationships of the natural world? Who will strive to protect an animal, a plant, or a tract of land, without any connectedness or sense of wonder? ‘Today’s youth require an immersion into works of quality children’s literature that promote and encourage environmental empathy. Resulting environmental education service delivery, as well as reading promotion responses/programming/collaborative efforts based in these materials, will assist in raising a generation aware of the environmental challenges that must be faced, understood, internalized, and resolved, for the continuation and preservation of not only wildlife, marine life, and birds of the air, but also for the well-being of our own species. Such efforts should concentrate on engaging readers in vicarious scientific adventures and reader response activities, all the while building an intellectual skill base amongst twenty-first century learners responsive to the resolution of complex environmental problems, and creating within the next generation a “sense of place” conducive to empathetic responses to the wonders of life, known collectively as “nature”’ (Lyons, 2019).
The Nature Booklist is a resource that will help engage and sprout eco literate children and can be used by educators, librarians, parents or anyone who wants to introduce and inspire children with the magical wonders of nature.
Libraries are already involved in promoting eco-literacy and nature based learning. State park backpack loans, interactive caterpillar to butterfly exhibits, terrariums, and a multitude of other nature engagement activities are being used by libraries to serve their communities and start conversations around the natural world. Libraries are ideal partners for community based organizations that promote educational messages and strive to create environmental stewardship within their communities. A general mission for any library is to provide access to information resources to meet the needs of its community. Libraries are a perfect fit for eco-literacy engagement and education.
I encourage you to become eco-literate and to share moments of natural wonder with the young people in your life. Branch out into those small moments to discover and point out your amazing observations. Share a walk in the woods or a park, be mindful of the sensory details of nature, such as the smell after a rain, the warmth of the sunshine or the shape of the clouds or a snowflake. Go on a scavenger hunt and sprout the awareness of nature discovery!
Dr. Arnone is a proponent of libraries helping to serve their communities with programming about their local environments. She has taught "Environmental Programming with Libraries" and "Literacy, Inquiry and Nature for Libraries" at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies. She is a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina.