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.