Switch off the TV - read a book instead. That is the eco-friendly message to primary pupils, Miranda Fettes writes
Everyone knows the educational benefits of reading, but selling it as an environmentally friendly pastime is a novel approach. However, Friends of the Earth Scotland and ScottishPower have paired up to promote just such a message in a pilot initiative for P7 pupils across Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Timed to culminate with energy efficiency week, starting Monday (October 24-30), Read for the Future aims to encourage children to switch off their televisions, computers and video games and pick up a book instead. The idea is to improve literacy and encourage a reduction in energy consumption at the same time.
Nine schools in Glasgow and eight in Edinburgh are taking part in a four-week sponsored reading marathon, with 600 children competing to read as many books as possible.
In each city, the school which raises the most money for FoE Scotland will be presented with an S Cube, a pound;450 renewable energy demonstration box, incorporating a mini wind turbine, solar panel, torch, battery charger, sound recorder and voltmeter, designed by the Ayrshire company Solar and Wind Applications. The winning pupil in each city will be awarded pound;50 in book tokens.
If feedback is positive, Read for the Future may be extended across Scotland next year.
Participating pupils can read what they like and, perhaps unsurprisingly, slim titles are proving particularly popular.
"They've been asking whether a comic constitutes a book and how many thin novels are there," laughs Pam Watson, a P7 teacher at Dean Park Primary in Balerno, Edinburgh, where 64 children are taking part in the challenge.
"They're very enthused."
The books and authors Mrs Watson's class have been reading include Malory Blackman, Roald Dahl, Michael Lawrence's Snottle comedies, Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, Michael Morpurgo, Terry Deary's Horrible Histories, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's The Spiderwick Chronicles, Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events, Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett and Robert Swindells.
"Most of them have already read the latest Harry Potter, so that's not really featured," says Mrs Watson. "Most of the girls are reading Jacqueline Wilson but, apart from that, I don't see any real gender bias.
"We've got a bookworm in the classroom - well, he's a sort of caterpillar - and each time they finish a book, they add another segment to his body, so he's growing by the day.
"They give three stars and a wish, three things they think was good about the book and one thing they would have liked, like maybe they wished it was longer or there was more character analysis."
Apart from boosting enthusiasm for reading, Mrs Watson, who is also the school's enterprise co-ordinator, says Read for the Future fits into different elements of the curriculum, as well as the school's broader goal to become an Eco-School.
"It ties in with citizenship and enterprise," she says. "Citizenship is one of our major project areas in P7 in the broader framework of the community."
It is a case, she says, of switching off the computer and the television and just sitting and reading, although not by candlelight.
At Langside Primary in Glasgow, 42 P7 pupils are participating in Read for the Future.
"It's a complete range of books," explains the acting principal, Sheona Crossan. "They can choose their own books and they also have directed reading suggestions. They're loving it.
"There are a variety of texts - fiction and non-fiction - and some of the books have an environmental focus. We routinely do topics about conservation and the children are interested in environmental topics.
"Apart from reading, we're bringing in other aspects of literacy and language. They'll be doing reporting, reflection and analysis. We're encouraging them to use the school library and the local library. Also, raising money for a good cause is part of their citizenship."
Alison McKean, the head of environment energy retail at ScottishPower, says: "Read for the Future is a great way to encourage children to think about how they use energy and what they can do to help protect the environment. So many activities are dependent on using energy, whereas reading is not only enjoyable and educational, but very environmentally friendly."
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of FoE Scotland, says ScottishPower approached his organisation with the idea.
"You're talking about achieving energy savings, if you're encouraging children to read rather than use their PlayStations or watch videos, and you're also helping their education and personal development, so we thought it was a great example of where an environmental objective ran hand in hand with a human development objective," he explains.
"In this scheme, the regulatory framework gives power generators an incentive to come up with new and innovative ways of saving energy. It's obligatory for them to try to reduce energy consumption."
Ultimately, says Mrs Crossan: "This makes the children more aware of the environmental impact of their actions, at the same time as encouraging them to read more."