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

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