This Earth Day, Teach Kindness
Bringing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into the Classroom on Earth Day
Earth Day brings a variety of exciting opportunities to the classroom. It can be a time to focus on sustainability and recycling through science education, or a chance to move class outside and do some hands-on learning activities. All of these traditional conversations are excellent experiences for students, and should continue in every classroom. We’d like to also propose a new approach to Earth Day, in addition to the science focus, especially for younger children: kindness. With the emerging and strengthening emphasis on social and emotional learning, Earth Day can be a unique way to help early learners forge key understandings about kindness, empathy, and thinking outside of themselves. It could also provide teaching opportunities to talk about care, respect, and responsibility.
To help you make those connections, we’ve aligned five Earth Day resources to each of the 5 Core SEL Competencies from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL. You can read about teaching principles related to those competencies in this blog post, or continue reading for Earth Day resources that support each CASEL competency:
SEL Competency: Responsible Decision-Making
The ability to make choices that consider the well-being of oneself and others
Earth Day Activity: The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is an excellent source for kindness-based activities for all ages, and we encourage you to explore it for your daily SEL integration. They have a page specific to Earth Day that lists ideas for being kind to the Earth, most of which are simple actions and decisions that can promote sustainability. Discussing the importance of these actions — such reusing and recycling — can serve as a useful platform to teach responsible decision-making in the context of Earth Day.
SEL Competency: Self-Management
The set of skills that includes self-motivation, goal-setting, personal organization, self-discipline, impulse control, and use of strategies for coping with stress
Earth Day Activity: Thinking about sustainability and conservation can be an excellent way to introduce or reinforce concepts of organization, discipline, and goal-setting. Ask your students to reflect on how much energy they consume on a daily or weekly basis, and challenge them to take steps to reduce that consumption. Set individual or class-wide goals, and help your students recognize the self-discipline skills they’re using to meet those energy goals. This full lesson plan from The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides educators with a robust list of resources for the classroom.
SEL Competency: Social Awareness
The ability to view situations from another perspective, respect the social and cultural norms of others, and celebrate diversity.
Earth Day Activity: Practicing viewing situations from another’s perspective and engaging in empathy is a crucial competency for robust social and emotional learning. Your students can practice this awareness by thinking about animals and wildlife on Earth Day. Considering how their actions might impact another being’s experience on the planet might spark some deep exercises in empathy and perspective taking, and students can connect to specific animals by studying endangered species. The Endangered Species Coalition has a page dedicated to involving young people in their work, and a list of science lesson plans and activities.
SEL Competency: Self Awareness
The capacity to reflect on one’s own feelings, values, and behaviors
We tend to traditionally think of Earth Day as rooted in action, but it can also be a time for reflection. Consider how you can embed time for nature journaling into writing or literacy instruction, by giving students time to go outside, appreciate their surroundings, and record what they see in their own voice. Depending on the age of your students, you can also teach self-awareness through Earth Day by instructing them to explore and articulate what features of the environment are particularly important to them as individuals, and asking them to formulate a plan of action to save those features in a way that utilizes their personal strengths. For more on nature journaling on Earth Day, see this blog post on Earth Day activities for children.
SEL Competency: Relationship Skills
The ability to initiate and sustain positive connections with peers, teachers, families, and other groups
Earth Day Activity: The simplest way to address relationships skills on Earth Day is to organize a group project that demands students work positively and collaboratively to achieve a goal. The opportunities for group projects are endless, but it might be most effective to choose activities that require high levels of collaboration and cooperation. Physically working outside could be a refreshing change of pace — working in a community garden, planting trees, or composting are all suitable for a variety of ages. See this article from kidsgardening.org to learn more about starting a community garden on school grounds.
For more activities to support kindness in the classroom year-round, visit: