Media Guy: Using Technology to Teach Kids About the Environment
By Andrew Borkowski
on February 15, 2011
As the world gets ready to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, we thought it time to take stock of what’s really out there in terms of media products designed to get kids thinking green. Given the pervasiveness of environmental messaging in society generally, we were surprised to find how hard it still is to find green-themed entertainment for kids that’s actually entertaining as well as informative. Here are some games, websites, TV shows and events that make the grade. And because gaming consoles, TVs and computers all gobble energy, we’ve added some info about what you can do to make gaming, surfing and viewing as green as possible.
National Geographic Plan-It Green
Plan-It Green casts you as the newly elected mayor of Greenville. Your task is to implement your campaign promise to clean up the city and turn it into the greenest city on the planet, because it has fallen into dingy disrepair due to pollution and neglect. With city planner Alicia Green as your guide, you visit eight districts, upgrading residential and commercial properties with thermal insulation, solar panels, wind turbines and eco gardens. Downtown, suburban and industrial neighbourhoods can be made more eco-friendly by adding features like bike paths and speed bumps. The object is to obtain a five-star rating within a set time limit at each of the game’s 45 levels. The leisurely pace of the game and its simplicity may make it a bit of a yawn to seasoned smash-and-bash videogamers, but it’s ideally suited to younger players. An adult may need to be on hand to help very young players read Alicia Green’s instructions. Downloadable for either Mac or PC at nationalgeographic.com/plan-it-green/.
Endless Ocean: Blue World
The relaxed tempo of the original 2008 Endless Ocean game prompted one reviewer to call it “the world’s most involved screen saver.” Last year’s sequel, Blue World (for Nintendo Wii), maintains the same mesmerizing atmosphere, with sumptuous undersea environments and beautiful animations of 300 aquatic species. Players adopt roles of scuba divers searching for the source of the Song of Dragons, but the emphasis is on exploration rather than the goal. While it doesn’t have a lot to teach kids about our oceans, it does instill a sense of awe and the preciousness of the marine environment. Players can stop to ride whales and dolphins, feed animals and heal or pacify them using their Pulsar tools. Scenes requiring the pacification of sharks and crocodiles earn the game an E 10+ rating. Parental discretion is advised for younger kids.
There’s no score, no time limit and nothing dies. The player becomes the wind, gathering flower petals as it swoops through landscapes that include deserts, mountainsides, wind farms and meadows that contain 300,000 individually rendered blades of swaying grass. Its creators describe it as the video game version of a poem, more about pace and mood than it is about content. A great way to calm the kids after a session of more frenetic gaming. Flower is designed for Play-Station 3 consoles with an Internet connection and is available as a download from the PlayStation Store.
This award-winning site is one of the best Canadian-designed kids’ sites about the environment, and it’s run by Earth Day Canada. Its bank of simple games for primary school-aged children are among the few activities online suitable for the very young. They can catch fish with a blue heron, sing along with frogs, and learn to avoid polluting. Older kids can write articles for the EcoReporter online newspaper and get homework help on biodiversity, climate change, energy issues and more.
The Green Squad
A great way to get youngsters to think about what they can do to make their schools greener, improbably brought to you by the
National Resources Defense Council in the U.S. In a series of comic strip-style animations, a group of funky students walk you through their school building and invite you to use your mouse to detect enviro-crimes that can be eliminated.
World Wildlife Fund polar bear tracker (wwf.ca)
As the polar bear becomes the poster child for global warming, budding environmentalists can track three female polar bears as they navigate the Hudson Bay. Includes links to other polar bear news and video clips. Check out the Canon Kid Zone food chain and constellation games.
CBC, 11:30 a.m. ET weekdays
This Australian-Canadian coproduction styles itself as “the first green living show for preschoolers.” Dirtgirl is a sassy, gumboot-wearing tomboy who tends her garden with help from a brace of colourful insect and avian amigos. She and her helpers use songs and stunts to teach kids about green living and eating healthy. It just might be the best green show out there, and it’s all tied up in such a bright, bouncy package that the little ones won’t even realize it’s good for them.
CBC, 7:00 a.m. ET weekdays
gets and computer animated merchandising opportunities, an old-fashioned kids’ craft show seems downright radical. Artzooka aims to wake up four- to eight-year-olds to the potential of objects that are already kicking around. Peppy host Jeremie’s instructions on how to make a table lamp out of dried
orange slices, or a train from the contents of a doctor’s consulting room, underscores the green
imperative to reuse and recycle.
Earth Day on
Friday, April 22
Disney’s specialty channel for pre-schoolers marks Earth Day with a marathon of environmentally-themed episodes from series including Handy Manny, Special Agent Oso, and Imagination
In his new book How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, British author Mike Berners-Lee estimates a new 21.5-inch iMac desktop puts 113 grams of greenhouse gas into the environment for every hour of surfing. Laptops are better, and be sure to turn it off and unplug it when you’re done.
Green fact The National Research Defence Council reports that video game
consoles in the U.S. consume 16 billion kWh/year, enough to power the city of San Diego,
Calif. Be sure your kids turn off the console when not in use.
Green fact Berners-Lee estimates that a 32-inch LCD flat screen generates 32 kilograms of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere every year. Almost half of that is generated while the set is switched off and in standby mode. Use a power bar or unplug your TV when you’re not watching.
By Andrew Borkowski|
February 15, 2011