This August marks 75 years of Smokey Bear, the portly park ranger who reminds us just who can prevent wildfires. Initially created during World War II to increase awareness of the need to protect west-coast forests from incendiary bombs and public carelessness, he’s since survived as an ambassador of America’s outdoors. Today, his furry face is attached to a number of free educational resources. Here are a few examples that caught our eye.
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America’s wildfire prevention campaign, the longest-running public service ad campaign in U.S. history, was already underway when its living mascot appeared in the forests of New Mexico in 1950. “Hotfoot Teddy,” as the cub found clinging to a pine during a forest fire was first called, became Smokey Bear soon thereafter. The U.S. Forest Service had found the cub in the Lincoln National Forest, and quickly named him after the recently-invented mascot for good forest stewardship. The cub, now called Smokey, was sent to the National Zoo. That Smokey’s gone now, but the symbol of thoughtful environmental recreation and exploration that he became is a national icon, one that turned 75 years old this month.
Since the creation of the modern Smokey character, the beloved bear has been a popular way to engage children with environmental and civic learning. On the occasion of his birthday, here are some ready-to-use resources that can bring Smokey into the the classroom.
Resources for Kids
Smokey Bear’s official website includes a wide variety of resources, some of which are perfectly designed for students to engage with directly. Combining language learning and environmental heritage, Smokey’s Story Maker—think Mad Libs—lets elementary students compose custom stories about themselves and the famous forest protector.
Ask Smokey is an interactive Flash game that students can play to learn about forest ecology and fire prevention. Students can even create a custom coloring book using the Design A Coloring Book page. Choose your favorite images, put them in frames, print, and go!
You can even have students send letters to Smokey. He has his own zip code, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent agency.
Resources for Educators
The official Smokey Bear website is built for educators. It includes complete educator guides, lesson plans, activities, and videos, all of which you can use in your classroom. The trove of resources is organized into pages for elementary and middle school learners.
Smokey’s Story, a PDF document, includes all the basics to introduce young students to Smokey, including make-your-own stick puppets of the famous bear and his forest friends. You can even integrate art by helping students participate in the annual Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl Poster Contest.
Teachers can also work with Forest Service fire prevention planners to deliver talks and resources to their class. Explore fire prevention for grades K-5 with this guide. Learn how you can align all these resources with your educational goals here. Finally, SmokeyBearLive.com has a large collection of lesson plans on fire ecology and biology for every grade level K-12.
Can’t get enough Smokey? Check out the ongoing list of 75th anniversary celebrations here. And remember: Only YOU can prevent wildfires!
Images courtesy SmokeyBear.com