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environment elementary homeschool unit study

Explore the Environment Elementary Homeschool Unit Study: Conservation, Activism, and Loving Planet Earth!

By: Knowledge Crates

Hi everyone! Elizabeth from Team Knowledge Crates here, excited to tell you allll about our Explore the Environment Unit Study Crate. This unit is all about conservation, activism, and loving planet Earth!

Some background on me so you can know where I'm coming from...

In addition to working in curriculum development here at Knowledge Crates, I homeschool my second-grade son and preschool daughter. Our homeschool style is a mix of open-and-go kitchen table curriculum (we use The Good and the Beautiful for math and language arts) and a piece-it-together, follow-our-interests, zillllllions-of-library-books approach to science, social studies, art, and nature study.

I have a bachelor's and master's in education, taught in public schools for 9 years, and have now been homeschooling for 5 years. I LOVE Knowledge Crates because of how easy they make it for me to homeschool in the style that works for our family. With a Knowledge Crate and a library card, we're off to the races!

We did this elementary homeschool unit last spring to coincide with Earth Day and had so much fun doing the activities both indoors and outside. You'll see my kiddos in a lot of the photos below as I lead you through the unit, as well as some shots that other Knowledge Crates families sent in.

First up, who is this Explore the Environment Unit for?

This Environment Unit Study Is For:

Elementary homeschool (best fit 1st5th grade)

Younger siblings can join in on the fun of the sensory play and arts and crafts activities.

Remember that best fit is just as much about interest as age ... middle school-aged budding environmentalists will find plenty to love in this unit, too!

This Environment Unit Study Covers:

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)

Language Arts

Social Studies

Environment & Ecology

Arts & Crafts

Sensory Play

This Environment Unit Study Crate Includes:

The Wild Robot Protects by Peter Brown (chapter book for independent reading or family read-aloud)

Activists Assemble: Save Your Planet by Ben Hoare (engaging nonfiction to use throughout the unit)

Discover It Yourself: Garbage and Recycling by Sally Morgan (kid-friendly facts and 17 hands-on activity & experiment activity ideas → even more learning beyond what's included in the crate!)

Printed Activity Guide with instructions for over 20 activities spanning STEM, art, sensory play, and writing ... keep scrolling to see!

All the materials necessary to complete the 20+ activities in the guide (except for tap water and perishable items like cooking oil ... you've got those, right?) 😉

Now let's take a look at all of this in action! My kids and I spread this elementary homeschool unit over about two months, but of course, you can take whatever pace works for you. For this post, I grouped the activities into learning areas, but we did them in our own order based on what we had going on each week and what supporting books came in from the library (library booklist included at the end of the post!). Make the unit flow work for you, my friends!

Explore the Environment Unit Activity Guide

The Explore the Environment Elementary Homeschool Unit Study comes with this fantastic activity guide that's got all of the activities listed with instructions, materials (all of which are also included in the crate), learning areas, and questions to ask your child to foster critical thinking and connection to the topics.

expore the environment activity guide

The first thing I do when I get a homeschool elementary unit study crate is take out this guide and make a rough plan of how I'll spread out the activities for our unit. For example, I may think, "Okay, I know I want to spend about four weeks on this unit, so let's choose four main focus areas and divide the activities between them."

Sample 4-Week Plan for the Explore the Environment Elementary Homeschool Unit

We did this elementary homeschool unit last year so honestly I can't remember exactly how I planned out this unit 😝, but here's an example of how I might break the crate into a 4-week unit study. Now PLEASE don't think you have to do this whole unit in four weeks, this is JUST AN EXAMPLE. It really depends on what kind of pace and rhythm you have in your homeschool. During a busier time of year (so like, always?) I would probably even spend two weeks on each of these. This is just one possible way to do it, my friends!

Week 1: Our Amazing Earth

  • Earth Day Oobleck
  • Earth Day Clay Charm
  • Paper Mache Globe
  • Paper Earth Collage

Week 2: Protecting Ocean Animals

  • 3D Sea Turtle Puzzle
  • Exploring Ocean Animals figurines & fact cards
  • Ocean Oil Spill

Week 3: Water Conservation

  • Carbon Filtration System Experiment
  • Build A Solar Water Purification Unit
  • Construct A Water Desalination System

Week 4: Recycling

  • Recycle I-Spy
  • Recycling Challenge
  • Recycled Art Project
  • Reusable Tote Design

Throughout those four weeks, we'd be reading The Wild Robot Protects and utilizing the other two nonfiction books that come with the unit, as well as doing the journaling and other small activities that catch our interest on a given day.

The other great thing about the Activity Guide for this elementary homeschool unit is that it's written to be used by both the parents and the kids, so if you've got an independent learner who wants to do a certain activity on their own, they can just use the guide and off they go!

explore the environment activity guide sample

To show you alllll the activities we did as part of this unit, I've got the rest of this post divided up by learning area-ish, not a certain order of how to actually do them. I want you to see how wonderfully cross-curricular this elementary homeschool unit study is!

Environmental STEM Activities: Science, Technology , Engineering, and Math

Ooo, this clean water science kit!!! It's a unit in itself, really. We only did one of the three experiments you can do with it, and my son still talks about it a year later. The experiment we did was building a water filtration system with multiple stages of filtration, and my son just DELIGHTED in seeing how the dirty water dripped out clean at the end. This made for a great opportunity to talk about how much work it takes to clean this finite resource and why we shouldn't be careless in using it.

With this kit you can also make a tabletop water desalination plant AND disinfect water with solar power. It's all included in the crate for this elementary homeschool unit!

clean water filtration experiment

Another activity we did in this environment unit study that really made an impression was the simulated ocean oil spill. We all just LOVED this. It was nice out the day we did this activity, so we did it outside in the kids' water table, but inside in a casserole dish or a shallow storage bin is great, too.

First, we set the scene with water beads, the plastic boat, and the ocean animals (all included in the unit study crate). In the pictures, you'll see some different animals that aren't included in the crate because my kids really wanted those friends to join in. 😂 We just played like this for a little bit, with the animals driving the boats, jumping in the water, and other giggly shenanigans.

oil spill activity animals in water table

Next we used the "oil" (provided in crate for this elementary homeschool unit) to simulate an ocean oil spill. The kids took turns squeezing in the oil, and it was cool to see the blotches floating around—great little bonus lesson on how water and oil don't mix. ☺️ The kids continued to play like this for a bit, seeing how the poor animals were getting dirty.

oil spill experiment adding oil to the water

The third phase of this activity was to "rescue" the animals and try to get them clean. You can see the kids' Grampa joined in on this part. ☺️ We talked about how scientists and volunteers do this in real life when there is an ocean spill and recalled how we'd seen this in Dawn commercials.

Finally, we used the items provided in the crate, like a Q-tip and cotton ball, to try to clean up the water. Naturally, it's a pretty futile exercise, which makes for great conversation on how important it is to keep our oceans clean in the first place.

cleaning off the animals from the oil spill activity

OOBLECK!!! Who doesn't love this messy, gooey, non-Newtonian substance? Well, my son, that's who. 😂 He wanted nothing to do with this activity beyond mixing up the ingredients, but my daughter LOVED it.

If you've never played with oobleck before, it's basically cornstarch and water, and it behaves differently depending on the force applied. It can feel like a solid when you squeeze it in your hand, but open your fingers and it will pour out like a liquid. It's very cool!

It was a nice day when we made our oobleck, so we took it outside, but you could do it just as well inside in a baking dish or shallow food storage container. When we first set up the oobleck, we made it look like a globe by pouring in the blue first and then making continent splotches, but little hands quickly mixed it up and that's just fine. ☺️ My daughter also added in some of the sea animals from the unit crate ... she loved hiding them in the oobleck, and when we were done they were easy to rinse off and have as good as new. This is a repeat play activity, tooyou can keep the oobleck in a container and just add a few drops of water if it starts to get too dry next time you play.

oobleck earth day

During this elementary homeschool unit we learned about the recycling symbol, different plastics, and how plastics are given different numbers to indicate if they are recyclable. We went on a "recycling symbol hunt" through our kitchen, looking for the chasing arrows and seeing what information we could learn from them.

Included in the crate are also three paper bags for completing a recycling challenge. The kids choose three recyclable materials, like paper, plastic, and glass, and for one week see how many recyclables we collect that otherwise might have gone in the garbage. This activity is wonderful hands-on learning and pairs beautifully with the included books.

finding the recycle symbol in the kitchen

We also did a fun recycling-themed I-Spy sheet. This is an activity that just takes a few minutes, so it's the kind of thing I'll have one of the kids do while I'm working with the other one. It's dry-erase (reusable), so then we can erase and switch who's doing the activity and who's working with Momma.

recycling i spy sheet

Environmental Arts and Crafts

WE FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS TURTLE. I mean, turtles are just one of our favorite animals as a family, but man, he's so stinking cute! 

This 3D puzzle comes in the crate as a wooden sheet. You punch out the pieces and assemble him. This is a really great activity for like 7 and up, because it's simple, but it's not easy—it takes some time to get this all together. As a homeschool momma who wants her kids to stay happily engaged so I can get some stuff done, I appreciated that this was a multiple-session craft!

I recommend gluing as you go, as some of the pieces were loose and fell off as we went. Once he's all together, you can choose to paint him with the included paints, or just leave it natural.

3D wooden turtle craft / puzzle

This little charm is so cute! The kids use the included air-dry clay to sculpt a little Earth, add on little continents, and then paint it. A chain is included so they can wear it as a necklace or hang in a window. Also, there's definitely enough clay included to make two of these.

earth day charm from clay

An art project in this elementary homeschool unit that my preschool daughter especially loved was this torn paper Earth collage. It keeps little hands BUSY, for more than a few minutes (again, happy Momma). 

The kids tear up the included construction paper into squares, which is an activity on its own, then keep using those fine motor skills to glue the paper on piece by piece. It came out really cute!

torn paper art earth collage

Another really cool art activity in this elementary homeschool unit is to design your own environmentally-friendly reusable tote bag. The crate comes with the tote and a set of fabric markers. We actually didn't do this activity, at least not on theme—Mother's Day snuck up on us, so we personalized the tote bag from the unit crate as a last-minute gift for the kids' grandma. 😂

One of our older homeschool friends DID do this activity as part of her homeschool study, so here's a picture of what she created (you'll see her tote also featured in the Explore the Environment Activity Guide because it came out so beautiful!).

earth day reusable tote project

HOW GORGEOUS IS THIS?!?!?! The final project that the kids do in this unit (final, because it uses the unit crate itself as a material!) is to make a recycled art collage of an ocean animal. In the Explore the Enviroment Activity Guide, there are two examples (a sea turtle and an octopus), but the kids of course can take it in their own direction.

Colorful bottle caps and tabs are included, and as a family you can get creative and use other materials around the house, too.

recycled art bottle cap collage

Another of our FAVORITE activities in this elementary homeschool unit was making this paper mache globe. I liked how we could work on it together, meaning the kids didn't each need their own. We took turns putting on the pieces of paper mache and poking the holes when it was done. Poking holes, YES, because it comes with an LED candle that goes inside to turn it into a little lamp!

This was really fun, and it was nice to do it in phases throughout the week to tie the learning together over the week. This was one of those activities that I really, really appreciated that the unit crate comes with allll of the supplies, already portioned and ready to go. Paper mache is easy, but it is just so nice as a busy homeschool mom to have everything all ready to go, you know?

paper mache globe

Reading and Writing (English Language Arts)

THE WILD ROBOT!!! Are you familiar with Roz, Brightbill, and their friends? My kids and I read all three books in this series last year and just LOVED them. Like, tears-in-Mama's-eyes-and-delight-on-the-kids'-faces LOVED them. The Explore the Environment elementary homeschool unit comes with #3 in this series (#1 comes in the Explore the Woodlands unit crate; we want to include #2 in a future unit!).

We picked The Wild Robot Protects for this unit because of the themes of pollution and dwindling resources—a "poison tide" is ruining Roz's island, and she sets off on an adventure bearing witness to the destruction caused by the toxic waters and finding a way to stop it. 

You can choose to have your child read this as independent reading throughout the unit, or you can do it as a family read-aloud. My son could have read this on his own, but we did it as a read-aloud so little sister could join in and because I just love reading together. Sometimes we'll read a chapter before bed, but we also like to do our read-aloud while the kids are eating lunch, during snacktime, or outside in the kids' playset on a nice day.

the wild robot protects family read aloud

In addition to The Wild Robot Protects, two nonfiction books come in this unit study crate: Garbage and Recycling and Activists Assemble—Save Your Planet. They're both written and presented in a way that makes the topics bite-size and engaging with colorful illustrations.

My favorite thing about the Garbage and Recycling book is all of the ideas for hands-on activities and experiments ... 17 different ones! We didn't do them all since we already did so much in this unit, but I'm so glad we now own this book to go back to in the future (I really want to try the make-your-own recycled paper activity!). Note that the materials for the experiments inside this book don't come in the unit study crate but are mostly things you'd have around or that would be inexpensive and easy to get.

Activists Assemble—Save Your Planet details the biggest environmental issues facing our planet today in a way accessible to kids ages 6–12. It introduces kids to some of the well-known people leading the charge to protect our planet and gives ideas on what kids can do, even in a small way, to help. Eight different activities are outlined in the Explore the Environment Activity Guide to go with this book, including family discussion topics, journaling prompts, and small investigation tasks.

environment unit study nonfiction books

My kids LOVE animals, so we always choose some to focus on when we do an elementary homeschool unit study. For this Explore the Environment unit, we were delighted to learn about ten ocean creatures with realistic figurines that came in the crate. Not only did we get the figurines, but there is also a fact card for each one!

The first thing we did with these guys was I simply laid out the cards and gave the kids the figurines, and they worked together to match the animals to each card. Some of the whales get tricky because they look so similar, which is a fun challenge to figure out together!

You might like to choose a few of these animals to focus on each week, reading their fact cards and maybe looking up some videos online to see them in action. We also used the figurines in the oobleck activity, the ocean oil spill activity, with the playdough, and in the bathtub. ☺️

ocean animal figurines and fact cards

Environmental Sensory Play

This elementary homeschool unit comes with playdough and accessories for open-ended sensory play. My preschool daughter got the most use out of these materials, as she's just more of a playdough kid than her brother is. It was especially nice to bring this activity out to keep her busy if her big brother and I were working on something higher-level but she still wanted to be with us. You also might like to use this to keep busy hands active while reading aloud to them from The Wild Robot Protects.

The playdough accessories that come in this elementary homeschool unit are soooo cute! You'll get three cans of Crayola dough (green, blue, and white), an adorable mini recycling bin, gray and green jewels my kids pretended were garbage bags, and tiny, colorful pretend bottles.

playdough with recycling  theme accessories

Before I fill you in on a few more resources I found helpful when studying the environment with my kids, I have to make sure my fellow homeschool mommas understand what an amazingly helpful curriculum this Explore the Environment Unit Study crate is ... EVERYTHING I'VE SHOWED YOU up to this point in the post COMES IN THE CRATE. 

Allll the materials for every activity above are included and ready to go, labeled in the box so you know what goes with which activity. This is SUCH a huge time-saver, guys!

Environment Unit Study Library Booklist

Whenever we do an elementary homeschool unit study, even though the crate comes with fantastic books, we always get a bunch more from the library. GIVE US ALL THE BOOKS!!!

I put together a BIG list of books to go with this elementary homeschool unit that you can look up at your library and use throughout the unit. There are both picture books and chapter books on the list.

You can get a free printable PDF version of the list by entering your email below, or head over to the same list on Amazon if that's more convenient for you.

explore the environment library book stack

Explore the Environment Preschool Activities

One of my favorite things about homeschooling as a way of life is the "family style" approach of learning, when the whole crew, littles and big kids, can enjoy exploring a unit together and in their own way

To keep my daughter busy and engaged when her big brother was working on a more advanced part of this unit, I used a really cute Explore the Environment preschool printable pack. It's available as an add-on to this elementary homeschool unit study and has pencil control activities, word writing practice, scissor skills, sorting practice, math games ... just a ton of great stuff that goes with the theme of the environment and recycling.

If you have five or unders in your house and are doing the Explore the Environment elementary unit study with older siblings, I'd definitely recommend adding this printable pack for the preschoolers. These short activities are also really great for sitting at the kitchen table while you're making dinner or cleaning up or whatever ... those moments when your child NEEDS to be with you but you have to get stuff done! 😉

preschool recycling number matching
preschool color sorting printable
preschool environment counting clip cards
preschool printables for earth day
recycling math game preschool printable

Integration with Brave Writer Dart Program

A few months ago, we switched my second-grader's language arts curriculum to Brave Writer's Dart program for (approximately) 8-10 year olds. If you're not familiar, this program teaches writing through great literature in the form of monthly novel studies.

Something really cool we've been doing lately is trying to match our unit studies with whatever we're reading for Dart. For example, we did the Exploring Penguins Unit Study with our Mr. Popper's Penguins Dart and it really made that whole month of homeschool so cohesive and fun!

If your family uses Dart, here is a list of literature units that I think would pair nicely with this Explore the Environment Elementary Homeschool Unit Study. Of course, do your own research to decide if these are a good fit for your learners.

Dart Literature Singles to pair with this unit (ages 8-10):

Suggested Shows and Movies to Explore the Environment

We love it when a unit study leads to a family movie night (or two!). I also get excited when I can find quality TV episodes that are on theme with what we're learning—we may watch one during lunch, or before bed as a family when a full-on movie night isn't in the cards.

Here are some ideas for movies and TV episodes that can go with this elementary homeschool unit on the environment and conservation.

Please choose with discretion what is best for your family—preview on your own or use a site like Common Sense Media before watching with your kids.


  • The Lorax
  • Hoot
  • WALL-E
  • FernGully
  • Disneynature: Oceans

TV Show Episodes:

  • Peppa Pig"Recycling"
  • Ready Jet Go: "Every Day Is Earth Day"
  • Daniel Tiger: "Neighborhood Clean Up"
  • Wild Kratts: "This Orca Likes Sharks"; "Stuck on Sharks"; "Whale of a Squid"
  • Arthur: "Buster Baxter and the Letter from the Sea"
  • Peg + Cat: "The Compost Collectors"
  • Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum: "I Am Rachel Carson"

Go Forth and Explore the Environment!

Thank you so much for letting my share all about our experience doing this Explore the Environment Elementary homeschool unit study. The ready-to-go resources we used are listed below. I hope you and your kids have as much fun as we did! ❤️ 🌎 ♻️

Resources Used In This Unit

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