Preschoolers\’ eco-friendly ideas win U.S. ecology competition


The students in Sara Bauer’s Kindergarten class at Sara\’s Pre-school in Ridgewood, New Jersey may be small in stature and even smaller in shoe size, but they prove that one is never too young to reduce a community’s ecological footprint.

The northeastern New Jersey students are this year’s winners of the EarthCare Challenge competition, and have spent the last month delving into their community’s recycle system and investigating innovative ways to improve energy and resource conservation.

According to Bauer, the 5 and 6 year olds have re-energized the preschool’s recycle program, given their playground a facelift and proven a myriad of ways to conserve everyday resources in the classroom and at home. They have also drawn examples of their progress in their notebooks and posted them on EarthCare Challenge’s FaceBook page for the public to see.

“The kids were great. Immediately they were coming up with all different projects,” said Bauer. “Even now, after the competition is over, they are still coming up with ideas on how to reuse (materials).”

The EarthCare Challenge, which is in its second year, was developed by the manufacturer Hickory Springs, which produces components for the furniture industry. Its effort to “go green” has inspired the company to find ways to use recycled material for many of its products and to develop earth-friendly manufacturing processes. According to Hickory Springs’ Vice President Dwayne Welch, the yearly EarthCare Challenge reflects the company’s desire to encourage earth-friendly practices.

This year they invited youngsters to demonstrate how they could make an ecological difference in their community. Of the 12 groups that entered, five were selected as finalists and spent a month developing their projects. Competing themes included how to convert a high school campus to a plastic bottle-free zone; eco-friendly way of cooking and operating a school kitchen; the benefits of Mother Nature’s recycling program, the compost heap; and methods for instituting recycling into large non-profit food programs.

According to Bauer, the goals of the competition have worked. She says her Kindergarten students not only utilize what the learn in school, the have become emissaries in their homes. They have continued to look for new ways to improve recycling and save electricity – much to their parents’ amazement.


“One parent told me they had to eat by candlelight,” she said, admitting that she hadn’t expected the students to apply what they learned at home so quickly. “They are definitely taking home what they learned.”

Bauer said that she had planned at the start of the year to have a day-long lesson on ecology, possibly structured around Earth Day. But news of the competition expanded her unit into a month-long project.

“I organized it into different groups: I showed them how to reduce, reuse, recycle and how to appreciate their environment.”

She also created incentives to inspire involvement, such as structuring lessons around art projects, and giving recognition to kids who were willing to incorporate their lessons into home projects. Students who could report having done a “green act” over the weekend, were spotlighted on the bulletin board and invited to tell the rest of the class about their experience.


“But it seems like they really didn’t need those incentives,” said Bauer, “It seemed like they didn’t think twice about it, they just went home and did it. ‘

Bauer said that although there are recycling programs in many of the surrounding towns, the children seemed unfamiliar with the concept. Therefore she used games and special projects to teach the kids how to recycle, and concluded each day with a self-rating system to help them determine “how green” they were that day. She had recycle relays to help the kids distinguish between different types of materials and uses, and each week they would deliver the boxes of items to the recycle truck.

“The truck would come around every other Friday to pick up recycling, (and) we would gather all the recycle together and take it out to the curb (just before) the truck would pick it up.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of the competition said Bauer, was finding that their new-found recycling habits didn’t stop with the end of the competition.

“We’re still trying to come up with ways to reuse (things) and we are still evaluating what we throw away.”

The kids have also begun including more of the associated vocabulary into their discussions during play periods. Their eagerness has helped Bauer in turn to think about how she can become more ecologically conscious at home and at work.


For their hard work, the winners of the competition received $1,000 and a selection of Craftmaster furniture for their designated open space. Bauer said that both awards will go to good use at the preschool. The furniture will be used to convert an unused area to a small library, and some of the money may be used to start an organic garden and expand their science curriculum.

As to the organic garden that she wants to start, Bauer has an innovative thought for parents of children that turn their noses up at vegetables. “These kids are sort of at an age when they don’t like to eat their vegetables. So maybe if we grow some, and they are involved in (the process) they will want to try them.” She admitted that the parents would probably be pretty jazzed with the results.