Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friends With The Earth!

It’s the end of another year, the end of a decade actually!  Is it just me, or does time seem to be speeding up?  Our lives appear to be cushioned with timesaving devices and yet everyone claims to be more stressed than ever.  The paradox of this modern day life unfolding!  The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen left many, including myself, feeling somewhat disheartened, but after the initial disappointment I picked myself back up and reflected on the next steps.  And hence this Blog!

A few years ago someone gave me Jane Goodall’s book. Reason for Hope; it’s a soul-searching journey which ultimately reminds us that there is a deeper mystery that connects us all; that the human spirit is capable of great good; that we live on a phenomenal planet and that we always have the power to affect the lives of those we come in contact with.  As Wayne Dyer so aptly puts it, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” 

In my recent research for a new program I’m developing, I discovered Marshall Rosenberg’s work in Nonviolent Communication   Marshall’s preoccupation with two questions incited his lifelong pursuit to develop tools with which we can teach children (and adults) the language of  Compassionate Communication.  The two questions are: “What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?  And conversely, what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?”

What intrigued me about these questions (and his subsequent response to them), is how they can just as easily be asked of (or applied to), our relationship to the natural world.  How do we become friends with each other, and friends with the earth?  Since my life is focused on educating children, my response is quite simple, begin at the beginning.   Young children are filled with wonder, they marvel at a snowflake, a flower, a bird, an ant or a song; so let’s keep that awe alive and help them to see it in each other and in the world around them.

Lesson Plans:
1.  Cultivate Awe!  There are so many ways in which to do this, depending on the age of the children you are working with.  Here are a few ideas: begin the day with a circle gathering in which you celebrate something different each day! Name ten things daily that you found beautiful.  Begin Gratitude Journals – there is so much to be grateful for.  Put up a bird feeder where everyone can see it and learn about each bird that visits.  Learn about the human body – how many muscles does it take to smile, to frown?  This Website about the Human Body has some great links

2.  Cultivate Kindness and Compassion:
a) We all want to be accepted and loved it’s a shared human need.  Learning about our needs and how to express a request to fulfill them is a large component of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication work.  Download the List of Needs and the List of Feelings from that website. 
b) Create Needs and Feelings cards that children can fill out (young children can use simple drawings or smiley faces); make a Zone of Peace box and invite children to place cards in the box.  When in a circle, share some of the cards with everyone (with permission from each individual), or invite children to act out, or mime their card so that everyone can guess what need or feeling they have identified.  Discuss each others feelings and needs; by doing this we begin to see that we share similar ones and this helps to open our compassion for others. 
c) Practice Random Acts of Kindness  Get to know some of the people at a local Seniors Residence; maybe you could write letters to some of them who do not have grandchildren, or invite them to a concert. 
d) Support a local, national and global charity thereby broadening the horizon of your compassion.

3. Cultivate Empathy!
"In The End 
We will conserve only what we love 
We will love only what we understand 
and we will understand only what we are taught"
 Baba Dioum (Senegal)
a) Learn about the wildlife that lives close to you; in the city, in the suburbs or in the country there is an abundance of life to study.  What happens to them when it’s cold, or hot?  Where do they go when their habitat is destroyed?
b) Nancy Sokol Green shares an activity called The Feeling Plant which is good for young children.  Tell the children that you have discovered a new plant, called the feeling plant, which demonstrates different feelings.  Ask them to draw what they imagine a feeling plant looks like; then share the drawings with the whole class and invite them to explain what emotions their plant expresses and how it does that. For example do the leaves of your plant droop when they’re sad or do they flap when it’s excited?  Does it use its roots to express any feelings?  If so, which ones?  Does it use its leaves to express feelings?  Which feelings?  Do its flowers change color when it feels certain emotions, or does it bloom, or wilt?  Finally, ask the children whether they think plants have feelings or not and challenge them to support their answers with reasons. 

c)  Introduce your students to Koko the gorilla, who learned sign language!  When Koko’s kitten was killed she apparently mourned for a year! What does this tell us about animals?  Do they have feelings?
Canada Geese are known to mate for life and there are stories about how when one is hurt, it’s mate will not leave it alone.  The Love Canada Geese website has some interesting thought about this 

Interconnections: Research into the relationship between human wellbeing and the environment is still in its early stages.  However, there is increasing evidence that emotional wellbeing is beneficial to our physical health and that an appreciation and Unstructured Experience of the natural world is very important in the developmental growth of young children.   We are inextricably connected to the natural world, and it is an extraordinarily beautiful place that sustains us in this precious life, let's teach this to our kids.

Story: I have chosen two stories for this Blog.  The Stars Inside  celebrates the beauty and uniqueness of each precious being and The Wolves Within reminds us that we become what we think.

Songs:  I have uploaded two songs to my MySpace:  that reflect the content of this Blog: Friends with the Earth -  this song is beautiful when “signed” and I have shed many a tear watching hundreds of students singing it on Earth Day and  Sasparilla’s My Gorilla – which is the story of a gorilla who grows up in a circus.  I’d also recommend Red Grammer’s song: See Me Beautiful

I try to keep the songs posted for a couple of weeks after I write each Blog, but if they are no longer there they can be purchased at a variety of on-line stores including iTunes and Amazon

I wish everyone a peaceful and joyful new year and I hope that you will be able to find the time to get out to enjoy this beautiful world.  Good health is such a precious gift and a loving community of family and friends a true blessing.

With gratitude for this precious life and beautiful planet.

Photo of Mountain Guerilla by Chemainus, BC, Canada
Animation Picture of Rosie and Friends, created by JC Little

Monday, December 21, 2009

There's Only One River, Only One Sea!

Like millions of others around the world, I am feeling very disappointed in the outcome of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  I am an optimist who nearly always sees the glass half full, however, having extensively studied the science of global warming and climate change, I know that it does not bode well for us, nor future generations, that these leaders have not been able to act more decisively. 

I do, however, think that this lack of strength in leadership will fuel the biggest grass roots movement of all time, and that people everywhere will come together to act locally and globally to mitigate the human impacts that contribute to global warming.

And so, with these thoughts in mind, I am choosing to write about water, (the precious element that covers most of this planet – one of the reasons it is often referred to as the Water Planet), because many  of the global effects of  a warming planet and climate change relate to water.  From rising oceans, to intensified storms systems, droughts and floods, water is inevitably implicated in some way. 

Fresh water is a precious resource that millions of people on this planet still have no access to, and many of us who do continue to waste it.  In 2008, when Florida was experiencing extreme drought conditions and the city of Atlanta, GA was announcing only 60 days of water left in its reservoir; I was giving a series of workshops in schools about water conservation.  I was shocked to find that no one attending those classes knew there was a drought in Florida, not even the teachers.  This was astounding to me since it had been constantly talked about in the media. But like our health, we tend to take for granted the precious elements that give us life, until something happens. 

Teaching children about water can help to introduce them to the phenomenal essence of life on this planet, which obviously includes us!   I always think that it is about wonder; if we can see the wonderment in things then that inspires in us a constant curiosity and delight in the simplest of things. 

Water attracts us, draws us to watch it and feel it; who isn’t awed by a perfect rainbow, a magnificent waterfall, a turquoise blue ocean, perfect snow crystals gently falling, or a glass of fresh, cool water on a hot summer’s day?  So let’s teach kids how amazing it is, how valuable and important it is to all of us.

Lesson Plans:
1.  For older children: How does sea ice form?  We hear so much talk these days about the arctic ice melting, but what are the conditions for its formation and why does it float?  How does it form in rough water?  This Arctic Theme Page  has some of the answers that you might want to share with your students.
2.  Earth is often referred to as the Water Planet with only one ocean.  I produced this short Video  for the Curious Kids Nature Club that provides some insights.
3.  Learn about your watershed.  Everyone lives on a watershed, and that watershed affects the streams, rivers, lakes and of course, the ocean.  Many who live inland do not realize that they are intricately connected to the ocean.  Here are a list of Links  about watersheds.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation also has some good information.
And here is a Watershed Game !
4. Do a water audit with the kids! This means that they have to look at all the ways in which they use water and figure out how they can use less.  For example, how long is the shower they take?  Here’s a List of 25 ways in which to conserve water at home and in the yard.  Play the Footprint Game
This USGS Website  has some interesting insights about water!

Interconnections:   Tell the story of a river.  What is the closest river to you?  Find out and learn about it with your students.  Who lives up-stream?  Who lives downstream?   A River Reborn is a really inspiring film about the restoration of Fossil Creek – it clearly demonstrates how a river impacts so many   Water connects us all and therefore it is in all of our interests to protect it.

Song: I have uploaded two songs to my MySpace page for this Blog: There’s Only One River, Only One Sea was recorded with my kids twenty years ago!  The message remains today.  The second song is The Rainbow Road – I wrote this song for a music tour that I organized – it traveled across Canada and the US for five years visiting hundreds of elementary schools.  The message was one of collaboration, of working together to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on all life.  That spirit is needed today and always; we cannot face the up-coming challenges alone, we must work together and help each other.

Story: Since the rainbow is such a beautiful manifestation of water, I have chosen the Legend of the Rainbow Warrior, which is one of my favorite legends.

On this eve of the Winter Solstice here in the northern hemisphere, the light will begin to return and with it, I hope, the wisdom and clarity that we need in this world, as we move forward. 

I would like to thank my followers – I hope that these pages bring you some useful ideas.  Thank you also for your comments, which are greatly appreciated. 
In gratitude for life and for water!

Photo of the River Brahmaputra in Assam by  Deepraj (From Wikimedia)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Seagull

One of the most ubiquitous birds found in urban centers is the seagull, specifically the herring gull; so, not surprisingly, this very graceful bird is oftentimes seen as a pest rather than the beautiful creature that it is.
As I continue the process of developing an educational resource package for early childhood educators, I am exploring ways in which to introduce young children to urban critters.  Birds are fairly easy to spot in cities, and are therefore a good place to begin when introducing children to local wildlife.

We can become blind or uninterested in more pervasive species such as sparrows, pigeons, crows and seagulls; maybe just because they are so common.  But for a child, a living creature can be a thing of wonder so drawing their attention to the smallest of our feathered friends can lay the foundation for a lifetime love of nature.

The book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull remains one of my favorite reads for I think that it contains great wisdom.  I once rescued a seagull that had been hurt by some kids at a park in Montreal.  My children, who were with me at the time,  found a cardboard box,  and we placed the injured bird inside and took it back to the country with us.  Of course we named him (we presumed it was a he) Jonathan! 

Jonathan stayed with us for a few weeks while his wing healed.  He wasn’t the friendliest fellow, but given the painful experience of his attack one could certainly forgive his ornery beahavior!  One day I just knew that it was time for him to go, so we took him outside and he lifted off into the air and disappeared.  We felt a little sad, since he had become a familiar presence in our kitchen, where he held court from his box.  
Later that morning, as I was cleaning upstairs, I heard Sam, our goose, making a huge kerfuffle outside.  I ran down to see what was going on, and there was Jonathan circling low over the house.  I called the kids and we waved, calling, “goodbye, be well”; after one more circle he took off and we never saw him again.  For us it was a beautiful gift because it seemed that he had actually returned to let us know he appreciated what we had done for him.
There is good information available on herring gulls at the Hinterland Website

Herring gulls usually lay their eggs in mid-late April, depending on their location and the young chicks leave the nest around the end of June, early July.
I found an interesting tidbit about gulls: biologists recently observed that herring and ring-billed gulls not only watch their neighbors,  they mimic their behavior to assure their survival.  A University of Montreal study found that when their immediate neighbors were alert, the gulls closest to them were less relaxed, and when the neighbors were relaxed, so too were the others. 

Lesson Plans:
1.     How many bird species can the children see in one day around your class or your home.  Create Bird-watching journals so they can note down which species they see; what kinds of behavior do they observe in the common species such as gulls, sparrows and crows.
2.      What do the birds in your neighborhood eat?  What about in winter, how do the seagulls survive?  Do they migrate south, or do they stay in the cities?
3.     Get the children involved in a local or national :  Bird Count
4.     Here is a good lesson plan from National Geographic about Arctic terns; these incredible birds travel over 22,000 miles each year from the Arctic to the Antarctic!  
5.     Many people have bird feeders, and there are plenty of small birds that benefit from the food they receive, especially in cold climates.  So why should we not feed birds like seagulls?  One reason is that they can become quite aggressive and have been known to dive-bomb people.  What do your students think? 

Unfortunately seagulls have become adept at dumpster diving meaning that they have become accustomed to feeding in landfills and dumpsters.  This has resulted in an explosion in their populations causing them to be seen in many areas as pests.   One of the more dangerous aspects of this habit is the fact that many dumps are located close to airports since people do not want to be close to either smell or noise!  The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned about this and they have funded a number of studies, which have shown some interesting results.  You can read more about this here:  Loafing at the Landfill

Song: I have uploaded The Seagull song onto my MySpace page.
I wrote this song after Jonathan’s visit, and it is still one of my favorite songs.

Story: I could not find a story about a seagull, apart from Jonathan Livingston Seagull! But I discovered a sweet story about another common urban bird, the sparrow; this one is a Cherokee Legend called: Why The Trees Lose Their Leaves

My father was a birder, and while I don’t go out specifically to bird watch, I am very connected to birds and can immediately hear a new call in my neighborhood, or feel joy at the sound of a cardinal calling in the morning.  A friend used to laugh at me because I could spot a hawk in a tree on the side of the highway from afar (while I was driving)!  If you are not already inspired by these feathered creatures, I hope that this Blog might encourage you to discover more about them with kids.

In joy and gratitude for the beauty of this earth,

Photo of Herring Gull: Kurt Kulac Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Herring Gull chick – John Haslam, Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Everyone Is Special!

In the run up to Christmas, I had been pondering about what to write in my Blog.  Years ago, I recorded a song with my kids and step-kids, called Everyone Is Special.  I remember a magic moment with snow falling, and all the kids in the car, Christmas lights everywhere and suddenly there was our song on the radio!  I pulled over to the side of the road and we listened; it was magical.   To this day, tears come to my eyes as I listen to their sweet voices ringing out and I’m just so glad that they got a chance to hear it playing on the radio!

So then last night, on my way to bed, a book fell off the shelf at my feet…it was the Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.  Needless to say, I read the story into the wee hours of the night, my heart opened once again by the beauty and poignancy of this tale.  Hence today’s Blog unfolds, guided by the deeper current that carries us all along on this journey of life. 

It’s a snowy night outside, and as I write these words I think of the hunchback, Rhayader, the protagonist of the story; of the young girl whose fear of him is overcome by her curiosity and of the beautiful snow goose, whose visits bring comfort and friendship to a lonely man whose deformed body has ostracized him from society.

I believe that everyone is special in some way; not necessarily in an egoic way but rather from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective that every human life is a precious birth.  I think we all bring something to the table, each person’s life a unique thread in the tapestry that binds us all. 

Snow geese are incredible birds that can make non-stop flights of up to 1000 km.  Like the Canada goose they are believed to mate for life.  They spend the winter months in the southern United States where they live in coastal wetlands, marshes and grasslands feeding on grasses  and grains.  At the end of the spring they gather in large numbers before migrating north to their summer breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra.   Females usually lay between two to six eggs and when chicks hatch, they are able to swim within 24 hours!

Lesson Plans:
1.  Celebrating our differences can help us to become more conscious of our commonalities.  At times like Christmas, it is a great opportunity to learn about other people’s celebrations. Kwanzaa is one such celebration,  another is Hanukkah and the Solstice yet another
Invite the children to research these and share what things are similar to their own tradition, or not.
2.   For younger children, tell them the story of the Snow Goose.  Do they know of anyone who is “different”?  Can they share what it might feel like if no one liked you, or if people avoided you because of the way you appeared?  What could they do that would be kind in a situation like that?
3.  How can we help each other?  At this time of year there are so many people in need, many who are lonely.  Is there something that the children could do, perhaps write some letters to people at an old age home, or have a food collect for the homeless.

The snow geese link the north and the south; they spend time in both places.  What are some of the similarities between these regions?  Ask children to investigate this.  One example is the abundance of grasses and coastal wetlands.  What about predators?  Hawks, foxes and eagles are found in both regions, but may not necessarily be exactly the same ones. 

Information about Greater Snow Geese

Song: Everyone is Special: I have uploaded it onto my MySpace page up until Christmas.  The song is in English and French.

Snow Geese Flying Video
Another video of Snow Geese

May you have a beautiful Christmas or holiday season; I personally love to celebrate the Winter Solstice as well as Christmas; for me it is about connecting to a celebration that is linked directly to the season; a time to honor the darkness and welcome the light back into our days and our lives.  Whatever you celebrate, may we all reach out with compassion to those less fortunate than ourselves and rejoice in giving kindness and love.
Blessings and light,
In gratitude always, for this precious life.

Photo: Snow geese flying: Chris Hazzard Wikimedia Commons
Photo Geese on ground: Walter Siegmund

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Mating Game!

This Blog is inspired by a song that I wrote many years ago, called the Mating Game, which was in turn inspired by the bower bird, that lives in Australia!  When I first began to write songs for kids about animals, I was always searching for fascinating creatures to write about.  Well, there are certainly plenty of amazing critters living on this earth and the bower bird is definitely one of the more colorful characters!

Male bower birds have a complex mating behavior.  Unlike other birds who might rely on a pretty tune, or a fabulous plumage display to entice the opposite sex, the male bower builds a great house!  And, not only does he build it, he decorates it with colorful items; everything from feathers, to shells and berries, even colorful flowers or feathers, anything to spice up the d├ęcor!  The iridescent blue Satin bower birds
(pictured above) even paint the walls of their structures, mashing up berries for pigment and using twigs as brushes!  Apparently female bower birds like the color blue!

What really grabbed my attention (as if that wasn’t enough), was the fact that these elaborate constructions are not to used as family homes but rather as a bachelor pad from which the males can attract a bevy of females!  Hello!  Sorry, but images of guys cruising in their cars sprang to mind!
So then I began to look at other birds and their mating rituals and of course I found plenty more cool characters!  Male weaver birds, for example, build elaborate nests (like the ones pictured here) and then hang upside down from the structure, flapping their wings, to grab the attention of females.  Watch a Video of male weavers building their nests.
The lyre bird actually clears a space, like a dance floor, in the forest and then proceeds to imitate the calls of other birds he hears around him!  They can copy the sounds of at least twenty other species as well as a variety of sounds they hear in the forest.  If you watch This Video you will hear one imitating a camera shutter, a chain saw and an alarm signal!
When the argus pheasant throws up his wings to impress a female, an incredible display of eyes greets her!  This photo shows an argus pheasant, but not the display – you can find photos on-line to show the kids, but I could not find one in the public domain other than this one.

Lesson Plans:
1.  For older Grades, there is a very interesting evolutionary genetic consequence that could possibly result from the bower bird’s architectural prowess.  It would have to do with the fact that it is the bird with the most elaborate bower who attracts the most females, not the bird with the brightest feathers!  The result of course night be that other genetic strengths, such as color, weight might be affected.  Here is an interesting Article on bird body language.
2.  Show younger kids the videos of a bower bird Making His Bower, or find pictures to show them.  Then invite them to draw or paint a picture of what their bower would be like!
3.  How do humans attract the opposite sex?  What are some of the similarities between humans and these birds?  That could be a fun discussion!
4.  It is the male weaver bird that build the nest; what other male animals demonstrate good mate behavior? A hint – penguins, sea horses and emus. 

Songs: I have uploaded two songs to my MySpace page – The Mating Game and the Boys do Their Share!

The natural world never ceases to amaze me, and I still believe that by introducing children to its splendors we are providing them with the greatest environmental lessons available.

"In The End 
We will conserve only what we love 
We will love only what we understand 
and we will understand only what we are taught"
~ Baba Dioum (Senegal)

As a child, I was fortunate enough to have a governess called Jo (mainly because there were no appropriate schools close to my home) and she began each day by opening National Geographic!   Together with my three classmates, we would explore the world, article by article!  As you can imagine, my young girl’s imagination flourished as I traveled the globe.   Looking back, I can appreciate now the magnitude of the gift that she gave me.

Have fun exploring with your kids!
In gratitude to the earth and all life,


The photos I use in most of my Blogs come from the Creative Commons at Wikimedia
The Satin Bower Bird photo is by Brett Donald
The Lyrebird photo is by Attis
The Argus Pheasant is by Stavenn
I thank all the photographers who share their work with us in this way.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Slip, Slitheree Dee!

Photo: Andei9174

Yep, you got it, snakes!  This blog is all about snakes and how we can teach kids about them in a responsible way!  If a snake crosses my path when I am in the garden, I jump – I think it‘s just a normal human reaction!  Snakes can be dangerous and our survival response is flight

But snakes can also be fascinating, and there are so many different species of snake in the world to learn about!  Snakes are important inhabitants of natural ecosystems, helping to maintain balance and health within habitats.  All snakes are predators and, depending on the size and species, they feed on a variety of invertebrates from insects, worms and slugs to lizards, birds, fish and even some small mammals.

Since I am currently in Montreal, I’ll begin with a snake that is found here in Quebec and then go to one found in Florida!  Quebec is home to a couple of species of Garter snakes, the Eastern Ribbon snake (pictured above) and the Common Garter   snake (pictured below).

The Eastern Ribbon snake is similar in appearance to the Garter snake, but it has a slightly longer tail.   Their preferred habitat is wetlands, or the edges of lakes, ponds and streams especially since frogs are their favorite meal!  They are good swimmers and are quite at home in or out of the water.  
 Photo:NPS US Gov

The Common Garter snake is found right across Canada and in many of States of the USA including Florida.  The eastern Ribbon snake is only found in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec and is Threatened in Nova Scotia.

Garter snakes are the most common of snakes and are completely harmless, though they might give you a nip if you pick them up and they are likely to secrete a foul-smelling fluid from anal glands if they are frightened!  When hunting for prey they primarily use sight, however they combine their taste and smell by using Jacobson's Organ which is located in the roof of their mouth.  They feed mostly on earthworms and amphibians and their saliva appears to be toxic to these species, though not to humans. 
Garter snakes hibernate through the winter and generally mate after emerging from hibernation in the spring.  Females give birth to live young in the late spring/early summer and may birth up to 40 in a litter.

The Florida Cottonmouth snake is a poisonous snake; it lives in the swamps, rivers and wetlands of the southeastern United States.  Often called simply cottonmouth or water moccasin, these reptiles range from Virginia west to Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and around the Gulf States to Texas.  This is a fairly large, thick-bodied snake, which can grow up to four or five feet long.  They live along streams, rivers, edges of lakes and ponds and roadside ditches.  If you come across one, leave it alone because they can be aggressive.  Cottonmouth’s are sometimes confused with other snakes such as the Banded Water snake; the body of the Cottonmouth is dark brown though young snakes are more brightly colored with reddish-brown bands on a brown base.

Like rattlesnakes, cottonmouths have two facial pits on either side of the head, which enable them to detect their prey by detecting the heat of the body.  All snakes that have these sensory pits are in the pit-viper family.  Cottonmouths feed mostly on frogs, amphibians, fish, turtles and small mammals like rats.  They are more active at night and their heat detection system helps them to seek out prey.
Cottonmouth females also give birth to live babies and usually births about 15 baby snakes that measure about 7 inches at birth.

Lesson Plans:
1.  Ask your students to draw a Food Web that includes a snake.  Remind them that all food webs begin with green plants.

2.  Snakes live in almost every region of the world.  Your students are going to become amateur herpetologists .  Invite each student to choose s particular species of snake to study.  They can use the library or the internet, and their final report should include: physical characteristics; behavior; biology; prey; country and range where they are commonly found.  When all the students have completed the project, collect the reports and include them in a binder that can be shared with the whole class.

Interesting fact: snakes cannot crawl backwards – they can only go forwards!

Interconnections:  Snakes are an important component in ecosystems and also in Food webs.  An example food chain might look like this:  a green plant >an insect>a frog>a snake>a hawk.  Snakes prey on a variety of species thereby helping to maintain a balance in ecosystems.

Song:  I have uploaded two songs to my MySpace page about snakes – Wanda the Anaconda and Slip, Slitheree Dee!

Here is a short Video of Garter snakes swarming together in a backyard.
Remember, snakes are not slimy, they have dry skin!  I hope your journey of discovering snakes will be an interesting learning experience!  Snakes play such an important role in habitats and I think it's important for people to understand it so that snakes are not just killed for sport, or needlessly vilified.

With gratitude for life!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mighty Monarch of the Ocean!

                 Photo of Humpback whale from Wikipedia by Zorankovacevic

It is the eve of American Thanksgiving, and I am thinking about being thankful, giving thanks for all that we have.  For some reason the Whale song, popped into my head.  First Nations people often refer to whales as the Record Keepers, the ones who have been here since time began.

I was lucky enough to visit  Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec a few years ago.  The Inuit people who live there were very gracious to me, and during my stay, some of the Elder women took me with them to visit nearby islands which are a special place to them.  Whales are sacred to the Inuit, and their livelihood in times gone by was totally dependent on these majestic animals.  When I left, the women gifted me with an ulu necklace made from whale bone.  An ulu is a kind of knife, shaped like the tail of a whale; it is usually made from bone.  I felt deeply honored to have been given this gift.

A few years later, I decided to write a song about whales.  I was having a hard time finding the melody and just couldn’t find the song!  I suddenly remembered the ulu necklace and thought it might help me find the inspiration I needed!!  I went looking for it, but couldn't find it anywhere.  Finally I gave up and went to bed.  The next morning when I awoke, the necklace was lying on the floor.  I kid you not!  I put on the necklace, went into the living room, picked up my guitar and Mighty Monarch of the Ocean just flowed right out! That is the magic of whales; they are ancient creatures that have watched this world unfold from the depths of their watery kingdom.

Whales are Cetaceans, aquatic mammals that include whales, dolphins and porpoises.  There are two types of cetaceans, those that have teeth and those that have baleen.  The order Cetacea is again divided into three subgroups:
Ondontoceti: Otherwise known as toothed whales this group includes over 65 different species of dolphins, porpoises and whales such as the belugas, narwhals and sperm whales.  All of these have teeth and toothed whales feed mostly on squid and fish.
Mysticeti: otherwise known as moustached whales, this group includes ten living species of baleen whales including the blue whale, which is the largest animal on earth – 100 ft!  Also included are the minke, humpback and grey whales. 
 The Archaeoceti: these were the ancient whales that are now extinct.

There is so much to learn about whales and there are some great websites from which to learn.   Whales, like all ocean creatures are impacted by the health of the ocean and whales and dolphins are particularly impacted by sonar.

We all have an effect on the ocean, even if we live inland, because everyone lives on a  watershed - this is the area of land from which the rivers, canals, streams and underground aquifers feed into the estuaries and then the ocean.  When it rains, all that water runs into one or other of these aquatic systems.  Harmful pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides, oil, paint, car oil and pet waste all mingle with that water and eventually end up in the ocean.  Minimal, if any, use of such products, coupled with responsible disposal of hazardous and pet waste can help to minimize pollutants reaching the ocean.
Lessons Plans:
1.  The Blue Whale  is the largest mammal on earth and they have been seen in every ocean.  What are the names of the different oceans?  Explore on a globe, the possible routes that Blue Whales might travel.

2.  Whales sing to each other and their songs echo through the water for hundreds of miles.  Find a CD of whale songs and invite the children to sit quietly with their eyes closed and listen.  Look at some pictures of different whale species, then invite the children to write a story about a whale; or paint a picture.  I heard a biologist tell of two whales communicating to each other over a thousand-mile distance!
3.  Watch the film The Whale Ride ; it is quite beautiful and very inspiring.
4.  Whales are sometimes found beached, meaning that they are washed up on the shore.  It is still a mystery as to why this happens, but when it does people come together to do everything they can to help.  This Video shows a group of people in Australia doing this.

Story: The story of  Finbo the Blue Whale:

Interconnections: Because many of them travel such large distances, whales have some interesting interconnections.  They interact with very different habitats, for example grey whales travel from Alaska to Baha, California.  The relationship between whales and krill is remarkable; blue whales and humpbacks are dependent on these tiny, shrimp-like marine invertebrates.  Such large creatures feed on such a tiny organism!

Song:  I have up-loaded my song, The Mighty Monarch of the Ocean to MySpace along with the lyrics – this is the song that was inspired by my ulu necklace!  The song begins with whales singing.

Other ideas:
David’s Book The Thousand Mile Song is quite fascinating!
David Rothenberg plays music with belugas in Russia on this YouTube Video

I hope you have enjoyed this short exploration of whales.  I am so grateful that I have actually seen them in the ocean and been close enough to hear the sound of the water spouting from their blowholes.  It is an awesome sound, evocative of ancient times!
With thanks to the Earth and all life!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hitching a Ride!

This is an exciting Blog-day for me since the subject matter is closely connected to the source that ignited my passion for teaching through songs! 

My lessons in interconnectivity likely began (unbeknownst to me) as a child; I was fortunate enough to be able to roam the mystical Sherwood Forest on my pony for hours on end.  In those days of innocence, I wandered freely through the countryside with no worries or fears, only a thirst to explore, to discover new things, and a fierce curiosity for a landscape that beckoned with exciting possibilities. 

I could gaze timelessly into a pond, watching the water spiders and tadpoles skimming and swimming about; lie under the horse chestnut trees pondering the rays of light illuminating the green of the leaves and imagine myself the heroine of the Pony Express as I zipped across fields and glades.  I realize now how much those unconstructed ramblings were the curriculum that fuelled my life, grounding in me a core understanding of my own interdependence to the earth and a cosmology that fostered an inherent sense of belonging.

It was in 1989, after attending a workshop called A Council of All Beings , given by John Seed, that I decided to devote this life to teaching children how all of life is interconnected.  We’re All Interconnected was my first song for kids about nature, and the rest is history!

Not long after those moments, I discovered a little book called The Medusa and the snail by  Lewis Thomas  This fascinating tale follows the life cycles of a particular jellyfish (the medusa) and a snail (the nudibranch).  The two creatures, living in the Bay of Naples, are thrown together in a bizarre symbiotic relationship that results in them both ingesting each other with the survival of their species literally depending upon this act!

Biologists studying the medusa had observed that it swallowed the spawn of the nudibranch, as it would other marine creatures.  However, they saw that the nudibranch spawn was not digested by the medusa but rather lodged itself inside the body and began to eat it from the inside out until the medusa ended up as a tiny appendage near the mouth of the enlarged nudibranch!

Under controlled observation it was established that neither the medusa nor the nudibranch would spawn if they did not undergo this process of ingestion and growing; in fact they seem to actually seek each other out in order to play out this bizarre life cycle!

I was quite captivated by this relationship and it sparked in me a voracious appetite to discover more about symbiosis and interrelationships in nature!  I thought that by introducing children to such incredible adventures of life, I could perhaps spark their curiosity and thirst for learning!

Therefore, in this Blog I would like to share with you some examples of species that hitch a ride and hopefully ignite your curiosity, so that you too might be moved to explore the subject with your students or children!

 I wrote the song Hitching a Ride about the Giant Harlequin beetle, (pictured above) which lives in the Panamanian rainforest.  Tiny creatures called Pseudoscorpions, also live in these forests and they feed on the wood of decaying fig trees. In order to travel to new trees in search of fresh food sources, they have developed a clever strategy; they hitch a ride under the wings of the Giant Harlequin beetle!  But wait, the story gets even better!  As the beetle flies off with the pseudoscorpions on board, an intricate mating game begins, with the males competing in a sexual dance for the most females!  The song describes it all in a fun way and I am sure older students will get a kick out of it!

Of course there are many other examples of species hitching rides that are not quite so colorful and which in fact have rather dire consequences for other species.  Some familiar ones would be ticks and chiggers both of which might have ended up on any of us as we trail out in the woods of many States and provinces in North America.

Then of course there are the invasive species, which wreak havoc on ecosystems in which they are introduced.  In Florida, for example, the introduction of giant boa constrictors is causing devastation to many native species.  Often these snakes are bought as pets and then released after owners find them to be too much to handle.  Here is some more information on Invasive Species in America.

Hawaii  provides plenty of opportunity to study species that have hitched a ride;  aside from the monk seal and the Hawaiian hoary bat, there are no mammals that are actually native to the island.  All living species that live in Hawaii arrived there by boat, wind or water.  Unfortunately, species like the feral pig, the rat and the mongoose hitched a ride in the boats of the first human inhabitants.  Today the fear is that the brown Guam tree snake will hitch a ride on a boat; if it does then many bird species would be at risk from predation by this snake. 

There are plenty of examples in the ocean of species hitching a ride on another species.  This photo shows remoras that are attached to a giant manta ray.  (Photo by Mila Zinkora/Wikipedia Commons)
It is commonly thought that the their relationship is one of Commensalism since the remoras feed on the scraps of food left by their host, and there does not seem to be a benefit to the ray.

Another story I discovered this week is one about a  sea horse– it seems that this one hitched a LONG ride on some floating weeds!
Lesson Plans:
1.     I have mentioned several species in this article that hitch a ride; ask the students to discover some others. Can they list the advantages for to these species of seeking rides on others species; for example the pseudoscorpions are freely transported to new food sources by riding on the harlequin beetles.
2.     Tell younger children the story of the sea horse or the Legend of the Hermit Thrush (below).  Invite them to draw some pictures of these animals that hitchhike on another! 
3.     Here are a bunch of Lesson Plans that I found, so rather than repeat them I am going to share the links: Invasive Species - Growing Native Plants  – Invasive Species Gamel – More Lesson Plans
4.     Planting native plant species is a good way to protect the ecosystems and habitats of your region.  Invite the kids to find out which plant species are native to your area and then have a fundraiser to raise funds to allow you to purchase some, and then plant them!

Interconnections! The subject matter for this particular blog is really all about interconnections!  The study of Mutualism is quite appropriate here;  Clown Fish provide an excellent example of mutualism.

Interconnections between plants and the species that pollinate offers more insight into interdependence.  On a trip to Kauai I had the good fortune to meet an incredible man, called Steve Perlman, a botanist who works with the  National Tropical Botanical Gardens.  Steve literally hung out from a helicopter to pollinate the alula plant (Brighamia) which was endangered due to the demise of a particular species of moth which had co-evolved with the plant and was, I believe, it's sole pollinator.  I have posted a video on my MySpace page Blog of Steve climbing the cliff face to reach the plant!  The views of Hawaii are quite spectacular and what he does is just incredible!  He is a truly Hero of our Planet!  Steve once shared with me that he spent the night camped out beside a loulu tree on the island of Molokai because it was the last of its kind and he wanted to keep it company!  I was really touched by that, and it made me think deeply about what it is to be endangered!  But that is for another Blog!

Story: The Legend of the Hermit Thrush – When I walked in the forest near my home in the Laurentian Mountains, I would hear the most beautiful song early in the morning and at dusk.  I could never see the bird singing this exquisite melody even though I tried my hardest to find out who it was!  Then one day I discovered this story and therein lay the answer.  The song of the Hermit thrush is beautiful; I am sure if you have heard it, you know what I mean!

And finally, the song!  I have uploaded Hitching a Ride to my MySpace page along with the lyrics.  It is a free download for as long as it is up there, otherwise it is available for purchase on iTunes. (Rosie Emery/We’re All Interconnected)

I hope you have fun with this subject – please let me know if I can be of any help and also if you have any feedback I would welcome it.  How can I make this Blog more interesting for you – suggestions etc.  I invite you to become a Fan of my Facebook page - I have just started it and intend to use it to explore further ways of incorporating songs and music into education.

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat
Match the beat of the universe,
To match your nature with nature.” Joseph Campbell

In joy and gratitude to the earth, and all life.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Ants Go Up, The Ants Go Down, The Ants Go Round and Round!

I have always been fascinated with ants.  As a child, I could happily spend hours watching the activities going on around an anthill.  I was always amazed at just how organized they were!  Those bits of leaves in the photo are being carried by leaf cutter ants!
There are between 12,000 and 14,000 known species of ants living on earth!  They live everywhere on land except for in the arctic regions.  And can lift up to 50 times their own weight which is comparable to me lifting up a couple of cars!

Ants give real meaning to the word cooperation!  They communicate by using smell and their bodies contain many different chemicals, called pheromones, which they secrete from special glands in their bodies.  Each chemical secretion has its own smell and meaning.  When an ant is attacked or killed by something, the secretion that is released warns other ants nearby, and ant soldiers quickly appear, ready to fight and carry the body home!

There are all kinds of fascinating ants; I find weaver antsleaf-cutter ants and army ants all to be quite fascinating! Some leaf cutter ants actually make compost heaps under the ground piling up pieces of the leaves that they cut and cultivating mushrooms (fungi) for food!
Ants and acacia trees have a symbiotic relationship  – the ants protect the tree from intruders and the tree feeds the ants by providing them with small protein filled capsules called beltian bodies.
Ants are a mostly female society; at certain times of year the queen will produce male and female eggs that birth as ants with wings.  These winged ants fly off to mate and begin new colonies elsewhere.  The males die shortly after mating.

Lesson Plans!
1.  Take the kids outside and watch a colony of ants! (Don’t get too close if they’re fire ants!)  Encourage the students to make observations like – do they follow the same pathways; can they tell what role they are playing – are they soldiers, guardians, egg carriers, food gatherers?
2.  Make an ant farm so that your students can actually watch how the ants make their tunnels and live as a society.  
3.  What other species collaborate like ants?  Some examples would be bees, termites. 
4.  How do pheromones work?  They are used for different reasons – sometimes as an alarm, sometimes to attract a mate.  Do humans use pheromones?

Story:  Here is the legend of Ant Woman and Bear

Interconnections: There are lots of ways in which ants interconnect with other species; some of the examples I have already given show this such as the ants and the acacia tree.

The photo here shows honeypot ants collecting nectar and storing it;  These ants live on the edges of deserts.  Ants play an important role in the breaking down of leaf matter into soil and they also turn over and aerate the soil. While ants are beneficial in many ways, they can be considered pests in some regions.  If you've ever stepped on a fire ant nest you certainly know how painful that can be!

Songs: I have uploaded the Ant Song and also the Cooperation Song to my MySpace page – creatures like ants and bees can teach us a lot about cooperation! We have many challenges to face on this earth and we will need all the cooperaton we can find!

Enjoy exploring ants!
In gratitude to life and the earth,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Moose with Nowhere to Go!

OK,  since we’re getting closer to the December UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, issues around global warming are buzzing in my mind.  Therefore this Blog is as much about greenhouse gases and energy consumption as it is about moose!  So, you are probably asking:  how does a moose relate to climate change?

Well, actually displaced creatures, including humans, relate to climate change; in the case of wildlife species such as moose the connections are mostly to do with the building of hydroelectric dams. 

The green image of hydro-power is often touted by governments eager to appease demands for clean alternatives.  However, damming large swaths of land results in the production of more greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.  Submerged plant matter rots and gradually releases carbon dioxide and methane bubbles which rise into the upper atmosphere.  One molecule of methane traps approximately 30 times as much heat as does carbon dioxide!

Of course there is the possibility that some of the methane could be sequestered and used for electricity.

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China caused a lot of controversy, displaced about two million people and disrupted endangered wildlife.  However, the dam provides 10% of China’s electricity needs so of course many people view it as a success story. 

There is of course, the option that we continue to seek more sustainable sources of energy and reduce our wasteful consumption of electricity instead of just seeing it as an endless resource for the taking.   When you consider the disparities in subsidy funding in the US and other countries, one might ask what would happen if the coin was turned and renewable energy received the larger subsidies!

Wild moose are large herbivores that inhabit mixed  deciduous forests in the temperate or subarctic parts of the northern hemisphere.   Moose can be found right across North America and they were introduced to Newfoundland in 1904.  The same moose species, Alces alces  can be found across Europe and parts of Russia and China, but is called Elk there.
Here is a website that has a lot of good information about moose!

Lesson Plans!
1.     Conserving energy means turning off electrical appliances when they are not in use.  Invite students to do an Energy Audit to see how much they can change their energy consumption habits.
2.     Learning about wetlands is a good way for students to discover sustainability because wetland systems work in a sustainable way.  This EPA guide is a good place to start.  Are there any wetlands close to where you live?
3.     Moose are ruminants.  What does this mean and what other species are ruminants?
4.     What do the students think about the Yangtze River dam project?  Discuss what happened there and ask if they have any alternatives ideas of what could have been done.
5.     Use all this information and create a geography lesson!  Russia, China, Newfoundland – explore all the places that moose live!
6.     If you are teaching younger children, invite them to play the : Footprint Game

Story:  I couldn’t find a Moose Legend that I thought would really be appropriate for the kids, however, I found an interesting set of real life moose stories

Interconnections:  In the Wolf Blog, I mentioned the effects of the wolf population on the quaking aspen trees – the absence of wolves led to larger populations of elk grazing young saplings thereby inhibiting their growth along riverbanks resulting in a myriad of consequences.  So too, wolves keep moose populations healthy and prevent large areas of saplings from being destroyed.  Nature evolves in an intricate balance; the minute there is an imbalance there can be serious consequences.

The Moose Song!  I have uploaded it to my MySpace page with the lyrics – it is a free download as long as it is up there!  The lyrics of this song really do describe what happened to me!  I did see a moose sitting in a field and since the region, north of Montreal, had had so many new logging roads carved into the forest, I just saw this little cartoon balloon over his head that said, “I’m just a moose with nowhere to go!”.
 When I was on my cross Canada Rainbow Road Tour, my assistant Andrea Ralph and I created some fun actions for the moose song; basically we made it into a line dance!  I am sure you and the kids you teach can come up with some creative ideas!

Have fun!
In gratitude to the Earth and all of life!

PS: Those of you visiting this Blog page  – you will see that I am added as my own friend!  This happened as I tried to send a message to my first follower, and I am unable to take it off!  Any ideas? :D

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Wolf Story!

In Native American lore, wolf is often referred to as Teacher, or Pathfinder, “the forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.  If you were to keep company with wolves, you would find an enormous sense of family within the pack..” Jamie Sams & David Carson
I was saddened this week to read of the death of Wolf #527, one of Yellowstone’s most beloved wolves, who was one of the first to be killed in Montana’s first wolf hunt in modern times.  So this Blog is dedicated to Wolf #527.

Humans have long had a fearful relationship with wolves; we read our children Little Red Riding Hood, associate wolves with horror movies and all things dark and dangerous.  But here in North America wolf attacks are rare and I have not heard of anyone being killed by a healthy, wild wolf.
As with all wild creatures, wolves must be respected; they are wild and should remain so.  There is a story that I love to tell before I sing the Wolf Song, that’s called The Boy and the Rattlesnake – It illustrates the point well.

The gray, or timber wolf is the best-known and most widespread species; they live in open and wooded areas.  Once common throughout North America and Eurasia, these wolf populations are now limited to parts of Asia and North America.  Their numbers continue to diminish in many of these regions however there have been some successful re-introduction programs such as the one in Yellowstone.

Wolves are intelligent, social animals that usually live in packs numbering up to two-dozen animals.  Their diet can include mice, rabbits and birds but their main prey are larger animals such as deer, moose, caribou and elk which they catch by stalking and chasing.

Interconnections! Wolves are a Keystone species meaning that they play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of an eco-system.  By controlling the populations of large herbivores in a given habitat it has been observed that they directly impact the overall health of the forests and watershed in which they live.

Forest researchers in Yellowstone National Park noticed that the quaking aspen tree had begun to grow back after the wolves had been re-introduced to the park.  The quaking aspen is one of the most ecologically important riverside trees in the Yellowstone ecosystem.   Biologists determined a direct link between the wolves and the tree because elk forage differently when predators are present.  Without the wolves, the elk decimated the quaking aspen resulting in shoreline erosion and a multitude of consequences that touched everything from fish to beavers.  You can read the whole story Here; it is worth the read as it is quite amazing!

Lesson Plans: 
1.     Tell the story, the Boy and the Rattlesnake, invite students to write about an experience they have had with a wild animal. 
2.      Play the Wolf Song (I have uploaded it to my MySpace page).  In the song, the protagonist tries to help the wolf.  While this is a romantic possibility, in real life it should be played out differently.  What do the children think should have happened? What do they think happened to the wolf?
3.     What is another Keystone species?

I used to live in the country, north of Montreal, and sometimes in the cold winter months I would hear the wolves calling.  It was a mysterious, primal sound; one that I think is deeply ingrained in our cellular memory!  Wolves are mysterious, just as is life; to me that is the wonder of the wild and as long as there are wild places we will have the opportunity to be inspired.

Have a wonderful experience!
In gratitude to the earth for life!

By the way - the songs are available as a Free download on MySpace for a week or so after they are first posted.  Otherwise all my songs can be bought on iTunes, Amazon and other internet sites.