Students Make an Impact in Franklin County

Peaks Mill Litter Cleanup #1 photo

Fourth grade students in Frankfort and Franklin County have been making a big impact in their environment.  As part of a project with Bluegrass Greensource and the Franklin County Solid Waste Administrator, students in seven city and county schools have had the opportunity to learn about litter in their classroom, and then applied that to their own environment.

Students at Bridgeport Elementary, Collins Lane Elementary, Elkhorn Elementary, Good Shepherd School, Hearn Elementary, Peaks Mill Elementary and Second Street School all worked with a Bluegrass Greensource educator in their classroom to learn about pollution and how it affects our local environment.  Using an Enviroscape model to demonstrate a landscape, students first learned what a watershed is and what watershed they lived in.  Students then identified various types of point source and nonpoint source pollutants found within that watershed.  Using items to symbolize litter, animal waste, and oil from cars, students saw where those pollutants came from and where they can end up as stormwater and move through their watershed.  After identifying the various types of pollution in the environment, students then brainstormed best management practices, or ways they can reduce and clean up those pollutants.

Following the classroom demonstration, students then met again with educators from Bluegrass Greensource to do a project on their school grounds.  Using the information they learned, the students made maps of their school grounds, and used the maps to track where they found litter, motor oil and stormdrains around their own school.  Students then put their best management practices into action and collected litter from their school grounds.  While doing the project, students were surprised to find more litter than they expected.  Students also became more aware of stormdrains and how stormwater affects their environment, and many classes chose to display their litter maps in their schools to educate other students and teachers about litter.

Bluegrass Greensource enjoyed this collaboration with Franklin County Public Schools, Frankfort Independent Schools, and Good Shepherd School.  Greensource is so proud of the impact these fourth grade students made in their community!


Nature – not pop culture – is top of mind in this children’s reading list

I am a self-proclaimed nerdy mom. Maybe not the glasses-and-pocket-protectors-type nerd (I just had LASIK!), but definitely the looking-under-rocks-to-see-what-fun-bugs-we-can-find kind. One of my favorite PBS Kids shows is Wild Kratts about all of the special powers various animals have and how those powers can defeat the bad guys.

Somehow, however, my oldest daughter has become obsessed with “new fashion” and pop music, not to mention the fact that she is still extremely interested in the Disney princesses.

Audrey is 6 years old (6 and a half if you ask her). I blame day care for her initial indoctrination to the princesses. Sure, I knew who Cinderella and Snow White were, but some of the more “obscure” princesses such as Sleeping Beauty were a mystery to me. Disney characters (and Elmo too, if we are being honest) have to be designed to do nothing but suck in unsuspecting toddlers and make them forever fans and turn their parents to mush when it comes to attempting to teach anything but waiting for Prince Charming and magic wands.

I have to admit that I have been officially sucked in. The biggest evidence of this was our trip to Disneyland last spring, where my heart melted when Audrey met Tinkerbell, Ariel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (I now know her whole story and even call her by her princess name – Aurora).

But there are smaller admissions of my caving to popular culture. For example, when my youngest daughter turned 1, I let Audrey pick out anything she thought Eleanor would like. She picked out “Little People Princesses,” something I would have NEVER allowed to enter my house with my first child.

So I am not sure I can fully articulate my distaste in frilly girly things that my 6 year old covets. Princesses are easy to hate because they embody everything from “let the man rescue me” to “women are only good for housecleaning and singing,” neither of which I was ever good at. I do know that most of my distaste comes from the fact that I never liked them as a little girl – there were always much more interesting things to capture my attention.

Since I grew up in the ’80s and we were allowed to run all over creation with no supervision and barely a curfew, maybe it was easier for me to have expanded horizons. I remember throwing dirt on stink bugs to watch their butts rise in defense. I grew up near a giant park with dirt running trails and trees, and many, many ways to spend the entire day without a thought of television.

Even as I grew to a teenager, pop culture was a bit of a mystery and I gravitated to the more alternative genres; probably because I was intimidated by keeping up with the latest anything. I liked knowing music and movies no one else did so I did not have to be up to date with the billboard top 10. My daughter on the other hand, immediately suctions on to anything her friends are doing and is currently obsessed with pop icon Katy Perry.

I have to admit that I do not hate Katy Perry. For the first time in my life I have found myself a bit shocked at song lyrics, but generally Katy has an upbeat rhythm and fun songs. My 1-year-old even dances next to the television when we play the YouTube video of Katy Perry on Sesame Street.

I guess I have to just make sure that I infuse my own “green” interests in my daughter as much as possible as long as I still can. If any of you are facing the same issues, here is a list of my nature/not-pop-culture reading plan for Audrey. I hope it works!

1. There is a Hair in my Dirt, a Worm’s Story by Gary Larson — This should be on everyone’s reading shelf.

2. Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel – this is a staple in Greensource’s education library and a favorite by students who like to dress up as their new favorite superhero.

3. Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins — follows Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson and more as they learn they have the power to make a difference.

4. Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day by Jane O’Connor – Nancy learns that even though green is not her favorite color, it is easy to make small changes that can make a difference.

5. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff – This is a great book to start a conversation about consumerism.

6. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by Sophie Javna – This is a great starting point to help young kids feel empowered.

7. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – This one is pretty obvious, but I wanted to include it just in case it has missed someone’s shelf.

8. The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole – There are many of these that help kids understand how nature works.

9. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – This book describes how trees help us in many ways.

10. Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmella LaVigna Coyle – reading this you learn that princesses do play in trees and have bad hair days just like you.

Audrey likes many of these books, and I hope to continue finding more as she gets older. Next I will have to see if she disowns me after I show her a Katy Perry parody video about insects – “Baby, You’re an Arthropod,” as seen here. Wish me luck!

1 Amy-Sohner

Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on October 17, 2013.


Pet rocks aside, there is plenty in the natural world to bring out our creativity

I always thought my grandma invented pet rocks. First of all, my Grandma Barry (both my grandmothers were named Mary, so I differentiated them by using their last names) was one of the most crafty, talented, creative people I have ever known. She made all of her own clothes, painted all of the pictures in her house (and many of those in countless relatives’ homes), created all of her own Christmas decorations and crocheted enough blankets to warm all of California. She also made incredible, intricately painted, rock animals.


(Photo from Pinterest)

These rock animals were my first exposure to nature crafts, and I loved them. I loved how she could take found rocks of all different shapes and make them into everything from bunnies to dogs and turtles. Each one was completely unique, and I was always amazed at how she would use the individual rock characteristics, like bumps and divots, to accentuate an eye or be part of the foot. She could see much more potential in rocks than I ever thought possible.

Somehow my grandmother’s creativity did not get passed along to me, but her love of using the natural world did. So I take every opportunity possible to take my daughters outside and use what is around us, both as a teaching tool, and to express their creativity.

Now that the newness of summer vacation is waning, I am sure that many parents, like me, are being constantly bombarded with statements that contain the phrase, “I’m bored.” To combat the “I’m boreds” I have created a list of easy to do activities that involve taking kids (gasp!) outside.

1. Rainbow Walk – as soon as my oldest daughter learned the “Rainbow” song from a Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That episode, we were off outside to look for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple colors in nature. Here is a hint: if you have a hard time with blue (we seemed to) use the sky.

2. Pine cone bird feeders – I am super impressed that my daughter can actually pick out a chickadee, tufted titmouse and mourning dove just by their songs, as well as many other birds by sight at our feeders. Her favorite feeder is the one she made at Reforest the Bluegrass a few years ago where she took a pinecone, spread it with peanut butter and rolled in black oil sunflower seeds. We have actually used the same pinecone multiple times.

3. Magnifying glass – Everything is much cooler with a magnifying glass. This is true inside and outside, but a good close-up view can make your whole perspective on the natural world change.

4. One small square – There is book series called One Small Square, and the concept presented in the books is great. Take a cardboard box and cut out the middle from one side to make a frame. Place the frame on the ground and see what you can find. This is just as amazing if you do it on a manicured lawn, a driveway or in a forest. Comparing and contrasting different “habitats” can also be a fun way to get ready for school.

5. Texture rubbings – Place leaves, flowers, sand, etc, under a piece of blank paper and rub with a crayon. If you feel extra crafty, cut the textured shapes out and make people, collages and other art for a gallery show for friends/relatives.

6. Under things – This is actually one of my favorites, which has somehow been lost on my oldest daughter, but I will mention it anyway. Lots of critters – everything from roly poly bugs to salamanders like to live under rocks, logs and even the toy car your children forgot to put away last weekend. I like to try to guess what we can find.

7. Listen – Since school is quickly approaching, I have been trying to get my daughter interested in writing and reading again. We sat outside last weekend with a book and a commitment to three minutes of silence. During that time we recorded everything we heard which was an amazing array of sounds!

There are multiple books written recently explaining the benefits of getting kids outside (most notably Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louve), and as an environmental educator, I agree. I want to make sure that my fellow parents understand that nature is all around us, not just in a park or a faraway forest. If you live in a urban center, the suburbs or in a rural area, taking your children out of the house and away from couches can do amazing things.

All of the things I have listed can be done in a park or a parking lot and are very low-cost. They will allow you and your child to learn what you have in your backyard and possibly grow to appreciate it more. If you want to get even more creative and crafty, there are seemingly millions of ideas on Pinterest or the Internet, and don’t forget making pets out of the rocks you find on your nature adventures!


Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 25, 2013.