The Green Explorer's Club has been using buttons in their after school programs and summer sessions since the early days of the organization in the summer of 2016. The program was started by Chicago moms who loved the outdoors and wanted their city-kids to also connect with nature. The Green Explorer's Club teaches kids ages 3-10, throughout the Chicagoland area, the importance, the knowledge, and the tools of sustainability at school, at home, and in the world.
By cultivating a hands-on approach to educate about life sciences and the environment, students are able learn first hand how one person can help take care of our planet. And with a little help from buttons, the kids in these programs can celebrate their newly found sustainability know-how with the badges they earn in each class.
The Green Explorer's designed their programs, classes, and camps to be a very tactical experience that are designed to encourage creativity and problem solving. The curriculum features take-home projects that are meant to encourage family discussion as well as on-going observations like windowsill plant activities, compost experiments, eco-system explorations, urban animals, and energy conservation.
Each type of class varies in duration, projects, and the button that your kids can earn—the learning never stops!
After School Programs
In collaboration with Chicago schools, students in the primary section (ages 3-5) and students in the Elementary section (ages 6-10) can participate in after school programs that typically range from 8-12 weeks.
After learning the best way to use the Earth's resources for the term, each student is awarded a 1.5 inch round button, as a badge of honor to all they've accomplished. The button pins come in 3 colors indicating how many terms they've completed—a white button represents one term completed, a brown button (paper bag finish) indicates two terms completed, and the metallic gold button shows off a whole three terms completed!
"We have rad little sun hats that the kids can get in our studio space so they have a place to store and display all of their hard work and commitment to the environment" says founder Erin Gibb.
Now that registration is open for the Green Explorer's Summer Camps, kids can be registered to join a full or half day of summer learning camps. Each week of camp throughout June-August is one of five offered classes. When a camper completes their full week of exploration, they earn a button representing everything they learned in that particular class!
The five classes include: Nature in Chicago, which teaches the kids in Chicago how to identify and notice the different forms of nature all around them. Sustainable Jobs; a class that gives the students a glimpse into a variety of sustainable careers and includes special guests from all around Chicago. The third class offered is Sustainable Communities, which focuses on how kids can get involved in their community and lets them investigate a variety of citizen-scientist programs. The class, Animals Around the World, are multiple lessons about the variety of different ecosystems found across the 7 continents of the world to learn more about how those animals live. And lastly, Our Changing Planet, allows the children to explore how pollution and climate change are affecting life in Chicago and around the world.
Special buttons are given out as a part of unique, real-world, problem solving programs that are meant to empower the kids to apply their new skill sets out of the classroom.
The example Gibbs describes is the Energy Auditor class—where kids walk around their school and conduct sustainability audits. As Erin describes, "Each Green Explorer walks the halls with a clipboard (it’s as adorable as it sounds), and they fill in a questionnaire as our teachers guides them through their school."
Sample Questions for the kids' audits include how often the lights are turned off, are the blinds open or closed on sunny days, are the computers in the classroom turned off and unplugged at the end of the day, is there a recycling program in the classroom, and are students encouraged to bring reusable lunch boxes and water bottles to school to reduce waste.
At the end of this class, the kids earn a special button that proclaims them as an official Energy Researcher so they can continue their investigation of sustainable practices at home and beyond.
We applaud The Green Explorer's Club for using buttons as ways to empower and rewards their students. A system like this not only excites the kids to learn more about the important subject of sustainability, but it also gives them a tactile reward to show-off all their hard work!
Teachers, we encourage you to try The Green Explorer technique in your own classroom, and to reach out to partner up with the organization at your school!