Many, many years ago I worked as a volunteer at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. I had grown up watching this place expand from a little building with some animal bones hanging around in it to a stunning, award winning Nature Center. I was a long way away from having kids at that point, but I felt a real pull to teach kids about nature. Fortunately, I was teamed up with Pete Stobie, an amazing naturalist with an incredible talent for connecting with children.
For the KNC’s Earth Day celebration, I was assigned to the “Down To Earth In Your Backyard” tent. The activity at my table was Cookie Mining, and I remember thinking “when I have kids, I am TOTALLY going to do this with them“. I have been dragging around a photocopied activity page since 1997. Really.
The sheet makes me giggle, because it notes that the cookies for this project were donated by Gil’s Market. Anyone familiar with Kalamazoo will know that stepping into Gil’s was a bit of a time machine itself; back when grocery stores were little, slightly dirty and did not include an “International Foods” section unless you count about 24 inches of shelf space donated to Old El Paso products.
So cookie mining is an idea whose time has come. It’s a perfect Earth Day activity, because all you need are cookies. There should be one for each participant.
Tell them they will be able to eat the cookie soon, but for now, they have to follow your directions. Say, “We are going to go cookie mining. Your job is to remove all the chocolate chips very carefully“. Give them a few minutes to do this, then when they are done tell them they just have to do one more thing. “Please put the cookie back together again”. This is the best part, because they freak out. They’ll laugh, but you have to stay serious and act like you asked them to do something perfectly reasonable so they’ll try it.
It won’t take long for them to realize they can’t do it. Here is where you use the activity to illustrate a bigger point; tell them, “This cookie reminds me of the Earth. You can only remove so many things from it before the whole thing crumbles, or in the Earth’s case, it can’t repair itself. Whenever we make a change – develop land, or change a habitat, it’s like taking one chocolate chip out. Take too many, and we can’t fix what we have done”.
The kids will be very sad, but it’s a profound learning moment. You can say, “Let’s talk about some ways we can do for the Earth while we eat our cookies”. You can talk about recycling, or walking or riding bikes instead of driving, or composting – something the kids can participate in.
My kids have heard about the recent mining accident, and I feel a little opportunistic doing the Cookie Mining project with them right now, but at the same time, it is the truth. If you have talked with your kids about conserving energy, they will understand the connection between using less energy and requiring less coal.
I LOVE Earth Day, and trying to teach my kids their role in caring for their planet. Yes.. I know it’s Saturday.. but if for more Things I Love Thursday, go check out the Diaper Diaries.