“Celebrating Earth Day … Catholic-Style!”
The celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd brings another fun opportunity to bring Catholic Social Teaching alive in our classrooms. Among the Seven Core Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, the most recently added is “Care for God’s Creation” – reflecting the U.S. Bishops’ environmental concerns raised in their 1991 statement, Renewing the Earth.
In this statement they note: “Dwelling in the presence of God, we begin to experience ourselves as part of creation, as stewards within it, not separate from it.” The Bishops also make a special appeal to teachers: “We invite educators to emphasize, in their classrooms and curricula, a love for God’s creation, a respect for nature, and a commitment to practices and behavior that bring these attitudes into the daily lives of their students and themselves.”
Following are some suggested creation-based activities to help our students understand the connection between care for the Earth and Catholic teaching. Some of these are especially fitting for the Easter Season, as well, when the theme of “new life” also calls us to be aware of the many gifts of God’s creation. (Related student activities may be found below on this website page, in the September column highlighting St. Francis of Assisi.)
For Grades Pre-K to 4
Even young children can make lovely butterfly mosaics which remind us of the meanings of Earth Day and the Easter Season (the butterfly symbolizes resurrection in its transformation from the caterpillar).
Each child needs a sheet of construction paper on which to make the butterfly. Provide a cardboard pattern of a large butterfly so children can trace the outline.* (Provide paper with the outline already done for very young children.)
Cut construction paper of different colors into ¾-inch squares. Have the children glue these paper squares onto the wings of their butterflies in whatever arrangement suits them. Perhaps the student or teacher could write, “Celebrate Earth Day!”, “Easter brings new life!” or similar words on the background sheet. Hang the butterflies in the hallway or classroom as a celebration of Easter and Earth Day.
*If you don’t have a butterfly pattern available, one may be downloaded from the following websites: www.griefwarehouse.org/butterflypattern.html or www.smm.org/sln/tf/s/symmetry/butterflypattern.gif
“Praise God” Mural1
A “Praise God” mural features pictures of new life. It allows children to praise God for the signs of new life and creation that are all around us in the Spring.
Provide a long sheet of butcher paper. In large block letters, spell out “Praise God.” Provide pictures of new life that the students can glue inside the outlines of the letters. Garden catalogs are a good source of all kinds of spring plants and flowers. Let each child choose pictures and glue them onto the mural.
When complete, the bright, colorful pictures will remind all to praise God for His creation. Use the mural as a decoration for Earth Day and the time after Easter.
Creation Place Mats2
Materials Needed: Construction paper or 9x12 poster board; glue or paste; crayons or felt-tip pens; clear contact paper; “found” materials from God’s creation – dried leaves/flowers, weeds, seeds, etc. Optional: Old magazines, scissors
You may wish to have the students write the words, “Thank you, God” at the top of their placemats. Discuss with the students how thankful we should be for all the things God created. When the placemats are used, they can be prayer-starters to thank God for food and all of creation.
Optional: Have students cut out magazine pictures which show creation (trees, flowers, animals, etc.)
For Grades 5-8
Materials Needed: Vegetable or flower seeds; potting soil; bottle or jar with large mouth; spoon; Popsicle stick; small artificial flowers; pebbles or small plastic animals; water.
Materials Needed: Wax paper; colored tissue paper; thread; small stick or dowel; iron; scissors.
1 Adapted from Burlap and Butterflies: 101 Religious Education Activities for Christian Holidays (For Preschool to 3rd Grade), Patricia Mathson, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN 46556.
2 Excerpted from Crafts for Religious Education (Grades 1-8), edited by Laurine M. Easton, TEL Publishers, Rockford, IL 61125, 1987.