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Local environmental educator takes hands-on approach to conservation education

Activity books accessible to a wide range of ages, reading levels
by: Submitted photo, Rick Reynolds

Rick Reynolds has a mission: to help kids understand how the world works and how to take care of it.

Over the last year, he has released several educational activity book sets to make lasting impressions on readers.

A local environmental educator who has been teaching for 20 years, the last five in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, Reynolds now works as an educational consultant with his company, Engaging Every Student.

Reynolds said that, through his teaching, he realized how much children responded to getting outside and connecting with nature.

'One thing that was really lacking was a way to make it easy for kids to connect with nature, understand ecology and also sustainability in ways that weren't just scaring them about global warming,' he said.

And, with his skill set, he thought, 'Why don't I write books about the environment?'

Reynolds released 'The Evergreen Twins Activity Book' in February 2011, teaching grade schoolers, tweens and teens the principles of sustainability and ecology through the adventures of the book's protagonists, Sustaina and Bill.

Full of at-home experiments, games and activities, 'The Evergreen Twins' are used by educators throughout the Portland metro area, including those at Tryon Creek State Natural Area's Nature Center.

Reynolds released a second revised edition of 'The Evergreen Twins' last month.

'Marco the Molecule' (formerly known as Walter the Water Molecule) began at first as a story in 'The Evergreen Twins Activity Book.'

Reynolds said the response to the original, partially illustrated story was enough to encourage him to complete the illustrations. A year later, last February, a full 'Marco the Molecule' book was released.

The story follows Marco through the water cycle and explains why water is so essential for life on Earth. It is complemented by ideas for hands-on activities, crossword puzzles, word searches and more.

Reynolds said the information in 'Marco the Molecule' has been simplified even more from its original form in 'The Evergreen Twins,' as has its reading level. The book is now appropriate for emerging readers ages 5 and up but can also be understood by 4-year-olds who have it read to them.

'There are young kids, between 4 and 8, who are just such sponges and really are fascinated by all these things,' Reynolds said. 'The idea is to use this fascination, help children develop emotional connections to the environment, … and it seems like it's really working.'

Reynolds is already working on a sequel to 'Marco the Molecule,' whose working title is 'Marco Makes Waves.' He said he plans to discuss the ocean and ocean life this time around.

With the activities Reynolds included in 'Marco the Molecule' and 'The Evergreen Twins,' readers can learn how to turn old boxes into cities; old paper bags into kites; and old calendars into games - how to recycle.

The goal of these activities, he said, is for students to 'first of all, understand that everything is interconnected in nature and that our actions matter, but, second of all, we really can make a difference,' he said.

Reynolds said these principles of conservation can also be taught throughout the course of daily life and integrated into lessons in other subjects, and vice versa.

One of his activities, for example, is 'How far does it travel?' when it comes to everyday household and clothing items. Looking at labels can teach children not only about the concepts of globalization but about geography and calculating distances and averages.

'From there (the activities) lead to more of a research process and understanding,' he said, 'and that's really the most effective teaching, in my experience, starting with a fun activity - a way for kids to generate their own questions.

'It's just a better way to learn.'

Reynolds said he has notebooks full of hundreds of ideas for educational environmental activities to include in future books, if he ends up writing them, but his hope is that he won't have to.

He said he hopes the activities he's already published in his previous books will inspire kids and parents to think creatively and create their own.

'That's really what it is going to take if we're going to overcome our environmental challenges over the next 100 years,' he said, 'because it is really going to take all of us.'

For more information, visit evergreentwins.com.