Ecosystem services encompass all functions of natural systems that humans benefit from, such as clean air and water, fertile soil, pollinating insects, protection from natural disasters, climate regulation and much more. Despite being essential to all life-support systems, ecosystem services are are often considered “free” and taken for granted. Studying ecosystem services makes their value more visible to kids’ eyes, increasing students’ appreciation and willingness to treat nature with respect.
Already in April 2022, the MULTIPLIERS Open Science Community (OSC) in Slovenia started to design different activities for kids to address still much-overlooked biodiversity and ecosystem services. Together with local partners, MULTIPLIERS partner University of Ljubljana first designed so-called “natural science backpacks”, which allow kids at different educational stages to explore and research various living environments of their choice. Inside the backpacks, different types of objects were included, from everyday utensils such as strings, spoons, forks and knives to more technical equipment such as binoculars and containers with professional laboratory tubes, among others.
Additionally, the MULTIPLIERS team prepared a set of cards with inspirational ideas to encourage kids, their parents and relatives to get involved in exploratory activities. The idea behind the backpacks was to equip kids to educate their parents, bringing them on board their learning processes as they took the backpack home for one week and documented findings in a diary. This way, kids acted as knowledge multipliers, putting the main idea of the MULTIPLIERS project into practice!
In sequence, an extended version of the set of cards was developed: a small handbook with more detailed information and a protocol for different activities. These try to address all ecosystem services and are designed so that teachers can use them directly in their classes.
Altogether, we assembled 10 backpacks that were distributed in our MULTIPLIERS partner schools. For that purpose, we organised a project meeting with our partners at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Education, where all the materials and the concept of the project were described. To further improve the backpack in the future, the whole implementation process and the way how kids are using the materials are being closely monitored.
So far, involved actors are enthusiastic about all the possibilities offered by the backpack and usually don’t lose much time before starting to explore and use its contents. Many kids don’t necessarily follow the card instructions but rather come up with their own creative ways of exploring ecosystem services.
Besides teaching about different living environments, the backpack is very useful for training tidiness, conscientiousness, sharing, how to take good care of materials and some other necessary soft skills. Usually, kids are very excited when they see the professional scientific tubes that are included in the kit. They instantly transform into “professionals” and gain more motivation to explore and learn about nature.
In the future, we will expand and optimise whole kit and of course add other interesting activities for multiplying knowledge and awareness about ecosystem services that we all benefit from and should be better protected.