Sunday, April 21, 2013

In Celebration of Earth Day

"If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength."  -Rachel Carson

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

This post is geared primarily toward educators; however, I have a couple gifts for everyone if you scroll down to the bottom - two videos I have created in celebration of Earth Day. :-)

Sharing nature with children is one of my most deeply held inspired values as an early childhood educator. I believe that:
  • If children are to care about and want to protect the Earth, they need to have a personal relationship with it
  • The sense of wonder children experience early in life will remain with them and bring a greater depth of understanding to their later studies and explorations
  • Nature can enrich our lives as a source of inspiration, creativity, and strength.

Despite the recent, dramatic changes to the public school curriculum and the restricted freedom and time we now have for "enrichment," I hold onto some goals that I strive to weave into my teaching however possible. They include:
  • Connecting children with the natural world through direct experiences and observations, stories, photographs, informational resources, and art projects
  • Putting children in contact with growing things to develop a greater awareness of the cycles of nature
  • Cultivating the child's reverence and sense of wonder for the whole of creation (natural world)
  • Encouraging sensory awareness and mindfulness of nature
  • Sharing metaphors and cycles from nature that speak to the human experience
  • Using natural objects as manipulatives and play props.

To accomplish these goals, there are certain activities throughout the year that I will do everything in my power to keep in my kindergarten curriculum despite it all. For example, I would continue to have an indoor butterfly pavilion in my classroom for children to observe the monarch butterfly life cycle. Even if (hypothetically) we were not taking time to officially learn about it, at least my students could observe it, be in awe of it, and ask questions. We could take a few minutes at the beginning of recess to release the butterflies outdoors. This is an example of one of my personal "non-negotiables." Another is growing plants from seed. Both of these activities cultivate caring.


I've thought long and hard about different ongoing activities and structures I can include in my classroom to support my goals of connecting children with nature no matter what. Here are some I came up with:
  • Having a seasonal "nature" table in the classroom
  • Naming each full moon based on what is happening in the natural world during that month
  • Celebrating each full moon by reading a story featuring the moon
  • Observing and discussing the weather and temperature on a regular basis
  • Pausing for a moment to honor and observe natural phenomena as they occur (i.e. leaves or snow falling, squirrels playing, wind gusting, butterfly hatching)
  • Setting up science investigation stations for free exploration
  • Offering magnifying glasses as tools for exploration during outdoor recess
  • Providing bags for children to pick up playground trash
  • Providing direct experiences when possible - and when not possible, alternatives include virtual experiences (on our SMART Board) and family "homework"
  • Taking monthly nature walks and focusing on sensory observations and signs of the season.
Seasonal nature tables
Science investigation stations

I have yet to implement "family homework," but here are some ideas:
  • Feel the bark of different trees, and do a leaf rubbing with paper and crayons.
  • Collect and press a few fallen autumn leaves, and send to school to share, compare, and use in an art project.
  • Go outdoors after dark, and notice (and make a list of) different night sounds.
  • Look for bird nests after the leaves have fallen from the trees; inspect with a magnifying glass, and perhaps bring to school for our bird nest display case (empty fish tank).
  • Make a snowman or snow sculpture, and take a picture of it.
  • Make a bird chart, and keep track of the birds you see in your yard during winter (or spring).
  • Look at the night sky, and identify constellations, or make up constellations of your own.
  • Take a walk, and notice signs of spring (or fall).
  • Listen to the sounds of spring.
  • Put out materials for birds to use in making their nests (such as hair from a hairbrush).
  • Full Moon Club: Step outside when the moon is full each month, and make a list in a small notebook of what you notice (sights, sounds, smells, temperature, etc.); notice how the sensory impressions change from month to month.

Like delicate plants determined to push up through cracks in the pavement, there is always a way to facilitate children's connection with the natural world. Sharing my nature and wildlife photography is one of my favorite ways to do this. It seems that my passion for what I have photographed and experienced on the river awakens something in my students. They engage and pay attention when I share my photos and anecdotes via the SMART Board, and it is among the highest quality, most insightful and observant discussion we have. I think that a teacher's passion is infectious and ignites learners. I have a class website with a photo album in which families can upload pictures of nature and wildlife they observe outside of the classroom so children can do the same - a high tech version of show-and-tell.

I also make room for some read aloud stories pertaining to Earth Day. Some of my favorites are:
  • Why the Sky is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale by Mary-Joan Gerson
  • The Gift: A Magical Story about Caring for the Earth by Isia Osuchowska (since I teach in a public school, I omit religious references)
  • Zinnia's Flower Garden by Monica Wellington
  • Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder
  • The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

Each year, I like to create something in celebration of Earth Day. One year I made a book from a paper bag that showed, through photos and text, 20 different ways we care for the Earth in our classroom.


To raise awareness of what we already do - and to brainstorm more ideas - I included items like:
  • Sharpening crayons, using the shavings for art projects, and using the stubs for crayon rubbings and melting into block crayons (message: using all the parts instead of throwing them away)
  • Turning off the lights when we leave the classroom
  • Obtaining most of the books in our classroom library secondhand (message: buying used rather than new and passing things on to others after they have outlived their usefulness to us)
  • Having a system for reusing and recycling paper, and using both sides of paper for writing and drawing
  • Repurposing different kinds of food containers to make classroom materials (paint cups, pencil holders, mini greenhouses).

For the second year in a row, I have created a video in celebration of Earth Day. Last year, I wanted to share Louis Armstrong's song "What a Wonderful World" and Tom Chapin's "This Pretty Planet" with my students and thought it would be more powerful if I paired the songs with images. That is how the first video came into being. My students asked to see it repeatedly; I think it has a comforting effect. Since I didn't have my blog going at that time, I'll share last year's video HERE. (Please be sure to watch it at the highest quality setting!)


 
This year, I created a video based on one of my favorite songs, "The Garden Song" by David Mallett, in memory of my friend, David, who passed on in February. David was a faithful gardener of both land and spirit, and my last visit with him ended with a walk around our yard looking at our gardens. One of his last pieces of advice was about how to keep cauliflower heads protected as they grow. He planted so many seeds during his lifetime, some of which have been growing in me for decades. In a nutshell, I think life is about growing and blooming where we are planted, and offering the world our highest expression - and then leaving seeds for the next generation to do the same. "The Garden Song" is full of metaphors, and it reminds me so much of David.

 
Email followers: Click HERE to play video.

I hope you will enjoy the videos and find some way to plant a seed in honor of Earth Day! 

With love and light,
Susan

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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