Mr. Grass Head helps children learn how to help protect the environment and wildlife.
ORLANDO — As the city celebrated Earth Day this past weekend, vendors set up booths near Lake Eola to offer helpful tips to local residents on what they could do to conserve our natural resources and make this city a cleaner and more environmentally friendly place to live.
Over at the nearby Orlando Public Library, though, there was an entirely different focus, aimed not at adults, but the people who will be making critical decisions about our environment in decades to come: small children.
The idea, said Debra Winslow, is to introduce children to the notion of doing what they can to help our wildlife — even in small ways that kids might not have thought about.
“Do you guys know where the animals live?” asked Winslow, the youth program assistant for the Orlando Public Library’s Children’s Library.
The small handful of children who turned out for this special Earth Day event did have some ideas about that.
“A zoo!” one child quickly answered.
WInslow smiled and nodded. “Where else do they live?”
The answers came rapidly: a forrest. A habitat. A rainforrest.
All of those answers, Winslow said, are good responses.
“They live in the forrest, the desert, and all over,” she said. “Do you know where else they live? In your back yard.”
And that’s where everybody in Orlando, Winslow added, can help protect the local wildlife by recognizing what it is, and what can be done to nurture its existance and ensure its able to live peacefully with the people and homes all around it.
“One thing you can do is plant flowers,” she said. “They’re pretty to look at and they attract butterflies.”
Plants also contribute to the health and growth of other forms of wildlife, she added.
“They produce seeds for the birds,” Winslow said.
Plants, butterflies, birds and animals are all a part of the wildlife that’s within our city, she told the little faces — and if they look outside their bedroom window, they just might see some of that wildlife in their own yard.
“Do you need a great big place to provide a habitat for wildlife?” she asked. “You can put plants on your porch and it can still attract butterflies. You don’t need a big yard. What else do we need to promote wildlife in our back yard? Bugs. We have to have bugs. Bees do the same thing that the butterflies do, they pollinate the plants.”
Earth Day was started on April 22, 1970 by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, to inspire awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural resources and environment. In 1990, it was taken to an international level and there are now organized events in 141 nations. Earth Day is coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.
As Winslow noted, every person on the planet has a role in play in protecting the Earth, even if it simply means doing whatever they can in the community or neighborhood where they live. And children, she said, need to understand how important it is to start doing their part at a young age.
“Don’t litter,” she told the kids. “Do you know litter is not only ugly, but it hurts wildlife? If we throw a soda can outside, a deer can lick on it and cut its tongue. We want to make sure we don’t litter to help the animals.”
Another great thing people can do, she said, is to plant trees, since trees absorb carbon dioxide through its leaves and then releases the oxygen back into the environment.
“We need oxygen to breathe, so trees are very good for us,” Winslow said. “They also provide shelter for birds and animals so their predators can’t find them.”
She also encouraged them to remember that just as people need water, so do wildlife.
“The last thing we have to do for our wildlife is we have to provide them with water,” she said. “Guess what happens when you don’t water your grass and plants? They die. Not good.”
Winslow spent some time demonstrating to the children how to plant seeds, and showed them pictures of the flowers that would eventually grow from them.
“My yard is full of amarillas,” she said, “because they’ve been there for a long time … and they just keep growing.”

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