Do these images improve energy literacy?

The “Public Energy Art Kit” contains 14 posters that try to raise awareness of climate change, energy inequality and fossil fuel dependency. See all the posters here.

This one’s called “Energy Slaves” by Hugh D’Andrade.

energy slaves by Hugh D'Andrade

The poster examines how much energy we generate with our bodies compared to how much energy we consume daily. A grown man, working continuously, produces about 75 to 100 watts of power. Whereas, “In one day, the average American burns up the energetic equivalent of 100 men working 24/7 to enable the cozy lifestyle offered by our modern civilization.” Our energy-powered “labor saving” devices are the equivalent of  an army of energy slaves.

Another poster, by Jacob Arden McClure, addresses “energy sprawl” and how much physical space our energy system takes up. “When done right, renewable energy can help reduce energy sprawl.”

energy sprawl poster by Jacob Arden McClure

Take a look at all the posters and see if there are a few you can use.

do kids believe in Earth Magic?

WASSUP is the magic word with a lost meaning. In the Earth Magic program of Northern Education for Sustainability, 7 and 8 year old children discover the lost meaning is “Water, Air, Soil, Sun, Animals and Plants.”

They spend a day in the field to uncover this meaning and then a term of school time investigating how human activity is affecting the environment. The program, like many others, focuses on pupil’s own behavior change in daily life to help protect the environment. At the end they are certified “Earth Magicians” and, hopefully, beginning a lifelong mission to keep earth magic working smoothly.

Earth Magicians, via the Northumberland Gazette

I like many aspects of this program, especially its experiential and hands on approach. But I think it could really benefit from the “wow” that art and design could lend to the topic. Yes it is important to know which of our personal behaviors we can change to improve environmental sustainability.

But we also know that everyone doing a little adds up to a little (see this short argument by David JC MacKay). Even worse, our existing social and city structures mean that for many households, common sense sustainable behaviors are not practical choices.

We need to be introducing bigger ideas about redesigning how we live, including at the spectacular, gee whiz scale. These disruptive design ideas will do a lot more to help children carry an interest in sustainability into the future.

Here are some examples:

how can we reuse the “big things” like washing machines that we live with:

superuse-cafe superuse-cafe2
Espresso Bar *K by Superuse Studios


What if we could grow gardens on buses?GARDENBUSSAL_640
rooftop bus experiment in Spain


Where else could we use wind up power?WindUp-Chair-PegaDesign-4
Pega Design and Engineering’s chair with windup battery charger via Inhabitat


What if power cords lit up to remind us of how much energy we’re using?lightup cord
Static, from the Swedish Interactive Institute

Learning Playgrounds

knitted playground

Unusual playgrounds, or playscapes, show how design can help us create unexpected learning environments in playgrounds. You can’t look at these two places without thinking of the issues that Hanna Rosin brings up in her Atlantic article, “The Overprotected Kid.

Rosin chronicles how in the 1970s, a few accidents and other media-hyped incidents led to a gradual homogenization of playground and even, to a degree, supervised childhood.

Let’s hope playgrounds like these that emphasize experimentation and alternative thinking will support an arts-influenced experience that draws out elements of  science, technology, engineering, and math.

Wikado Foundation playground, the Netherlands
A playground made of recycled wind turbines by Superuse Studios.
kids gain a sense of scale and experience the aerodynamic shape of the blades (both inside and out).

Rain­bow Net play­ground, Hakone Sculp­ture Park, Japan

This crocheted playground by Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam helps kids see tensile (stetchy) material as structural and illustrates geometry (not to mention color!). Turns out crochet is one of the best ways to model a hyperbolic shape (according to the Girls Collaborative Project, who crochet coral reef models, and Sara Kuhn who crochets amazing hyberbolic planes).



We should also leave so room for the not overprotected kid, as shown in Rosin’s pictures from “The Land” were kids play happily unsupervised in an area containing a wealth of “source material” that kids engineer into play structures and spaces of their own.

Rosin-theland playground

For more inspiring playgrounds have a look over on Playscapes blog by Paige Johnson and check out this Arch Daily article on “Forming Playscapes: What Schools Can Learn from Playgrounds.”

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Engineering greeting cards

Here at Kids Future Press we’re interested in how art and design (represented by the letter A), combined with STEM (for science, technology, engineering and math) make STEAM and can bring sustainable futures to life in picture books for kids.

Robert Sobuda’s template for making your own popups

On the blog we also like to explore activities and projects that compliment books, and today we visit Robert Sobuda’s website where you can find downloadable templates for making your own pop-up cards in shapes such as hearts, animals or flowers. As Amy Koester, of The Library as Incubator Project, writes, adding popups to the gradeschool art project of making Valentine’s, Easter, or mother’s day cards helps these projects deliver a basic engineering experience.

In another article, Amy writes that it’s useful to think about “engineering” as a fancy term for “making” or even “crafting.” Paper airplanes, lego buildings or popup cards all offer approachable ways to introduce kids to engineering. And she mentions the importance of testing your creations and having a chance to make adjustments and experiment.

Try the popups and let us know in the comments how it goes. Pass this post on to others who might like it.