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"Just a Dream": A Lesson in Environmental Education

written by: Marlene Gundlach • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 9/11/2012

"Just a Dream" is the perfect addition to any unit on environmental education. It looks at a small boy and his attitude toward the earth. He sees that the future depends on him and the way he treats the earth.

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    Book Summary

    Chris Van Allsburg’s book “Just a Dream" is about a boy who discovers that his wasteful ways will indeed have an affect on his future. The book begins by introducing readers to Walter, a young boy who throws trash on the ground and does not have time to sort the trash when he takes it out. When his neighbor shows him the small tree she got for her birthday, he only hopes he doesn’t get such a ridiculous gift for his birthday.

    As Walter drifts off to sleep that night, his dreams take him on a trip to the future. A future filled with trash, smog, and damaged wildlife. He wakes up with a different attitude, and runs out to sort the trash and we then see him planting his own young tree for his birthday. His final dream sequence takes him to an entirely different future; one where he is in the shade of two giant trees. The two trees that he and his neighbor planted many years ago.

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    Environmental Activities

    Just a Dream This book is the perfect addition to a unit on recycling and if teaching about endangered animals. The actions of one child can have an effect on his future, and students can look at Walter’s actions and see how they compare.

    Start by having students make a Venn diagram where they will compare Walter’s actions /attitudes at the beginning of the book to how they take care of the earth. Then come together as a class to brainstorm a list of things they can do everyday to help change the future that Walter sees.

    Work as a class to come up with a community project that you can do to help with environment. Maybe the local baseball park does not have any recycling bins at the fields or maybe you do not have them at your school. Work with the class to come up with a way to accomplish your task. If you already recycle at school, maybe the class can make posters to hang in the cafeteria and the hallways to encourage recycling. If your community does not have a recycling program, work as a class to draft a letter to the mayor asking to legislate a recycling program for the community. In the classroom, encourage the use of scrap paper. If you make extra copies of newsletters or worksheets, save t hem so that students can use the backs of the paper for drawing.