The Deepwater Horizon oil spill recently created by a leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico – now a blob of goo three times the size of Rhode Island that threatens Gulf fisheries, the Florida Keys, and the Louisiana coast – is hardly special in any positive sense of the world, but its prominence in the news gives us all a good opportunity to teach our kids about oil.
Melvin Burger’s Oil Spill! (HarperCollins, 1994) in the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out science series – with a dismayed-looking otter on the cover – is a good introduction to the topic for ages 5-8, beginning with the Exxon Valdez disaster and covering the ecological damage caused by oil spills and the various ways in which we try to combat them.
In Sally Grindley’s Peter’s Place (Andersen Press, 2001), young Peter loves a local stretch of rocky ocean coast – and helps battle to save it and its resident seals and eider ducks when an oil spill threatens its destruction. For ages 4-8.
Luis Sepulveda’s 128-page chapter book The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly (Scholastic, 2006) begins with an ecological tragedy: a dying oil-covered seagull lands on the balcony of Zorba, a big black cat, and persuades him to raise the chick from the egg she leaves behind. With the help of some quirky feline friends, Zorba keeps his promise. For ages 8-11.
John Farndon’s Oil (Dorling Kindersley, 2007), one of the popular DK Eyewitness Books, is an abbreviated but gorgeously illustrated 78-page history of oil from ancient times to the present. For ages 8-12.
From the U.S. Energy Information Administration, find a reader-friendly illustrated overview of oil targeted at kids. Topics covered include how oil is made, where oil is found, offshore drilling, the refining process, oil-based products (among them crayons and bubblegum), and oil and the environment.
At the TeachEngineering website, click on “Activities” and then “Oil Spill Clean-Up” for a detailed hands-on lesson plan in which kids compare three different methods for coping with an oil spill. Included are complete instructions and printable student worksheets. Recommended for grades 6-8.
For grades 3-5, National Geographic’s “Bird Baths: Cleaning Up Wildlife After Oil Spills” has background information and hands-on activities on helping birds recover from oil spills. For grades 6-8, see “Liquid Density and Oil Spills,” a layered-liquids experiment.
From the New York Times Learning Network, “Drill on the Spill” is a detailed lesson plan on the Deepwater Horizon spill for grades 6-12 with background readings, hands-on experiments, and research and discussion topics.