Sunday, November 21, 2010

Teaching Children the Value of Nature

Perhaps it’s time we taught children the real value of nature. 

It’s wonderful that we are teaching them to care for it, to protect and preserve it, to try to “save” it etc. etc., but unless we, and they, fundamentally comprehend its intrinsic value, I fear we will not act fast enough to prevent the complete breakdown of biodiversity that is actually happening at this very moment. 

Thankfully nature has an indomitable way of resurrecting itself when we just leave it alone; however if we continue on this present trajectory it may take millions of years for that to happen and we, like some pesky mite, will simply be sloughed off along the way.

How do we understand this value?  How can we teach it to the youngest members of our society so that they might grow up fiercely determined to acknowledge its importance and relevance in monetary terms?  I will attempt here to offer some ideas that you might find useful in your classrooms and home-school lessons.

Lesson Plans

1.  The value of a watershed
Everyone lives in a watershed, and every watershed impacts the ocean.  Even if you live far inland, the lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers all flow through the countryside to the sea.  Therefore, the health of that watershed has far reaching implications not only for wildlife but for humans too.  Find out which watershed you live in and invite your students to learn how that watershed impacts the economic wellbeing of the various communities therein.  For example, here in Florida, saltwater fishing in the Charlotte Harbor region generates nearly $37milllon,  annual revenue from angler expenditures.  Pollutants from human habitation can severely affect the health of the marine ecosystems subsequently impacting the fish and the industry that is reliant upon it. 

2.  Bats
Bats provide a valuable service to famers because they feed on many of the pests that destroy crops.  Without bats, farmers would have to spend large sums of money on pesticides to curtail such destruction.  Fruit-eating bats spread seeds across large swaths of forest ensuring the survival of fruit bearing trees.  Ask students to find out which pests bats eat, and what fruits might be impacted if bats were not able to distribute the seeds.

3.  Bees
Bees pollinate a variety of plants that provide us with essential foods; invite students to research these foods and then look at their commercial value.  Bees are currently declining around the globe; what would be the economic impact if there were no bees?  Ways Kids Can Help Protect Bees

4.  Earthworms
Without earthworms, there would be no soil and therefore no plants, no food. We don’t often see posters celebrating the value of worms!   Create a poster illustrating the role of earthworms in the food chain.  Write a song, a poem, an ode to the earthworm!  Importance of Earthworms

5.  Trees
Trees provide a multitude of services; paper, wood for building, shade for crops, they provide us with food and they also clean the air and act as carbon sinks.  Ask students to list some of the econimical benefits of trees.   A Tree's importance and Environmental Benefit

Bats, bats, bats!   Is one that comes to mind!  The Coral Reef is another - coral reefs are essential nursery grounds for so many species of fish.

Have fun!  Thanks for stopping by!  Let me know if I can help you in any way with your lesson plans!
In gratitude to this Earth for life!

Other Resources:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stealing from our Children

I was honored to hear Chief Oren Lyons speak today at the NAAEE conference in Buffalo, New York.  
Not only did he remind us all that we are running out of time, but he reiterated this Native American Proverb:

 “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Those words rattled around my head as I wandered back to my hotel after presenting my own session at the conference.  I’d heard the quotation before, but somehow today, hearing it spoken by Chief Lyons, brought tears to my eyes. 

I thought we loved our children?  We do everything we can to nurture and protect them don’t we?  We have child protection agencies, child care this and child care that.  And yet the stark reality is that we are NOT protecting them from a future that is likely to be pretty grim; one that we ourselves probably won’t have to endure.  We are neglecting all the children of the earth right now and into the next generations because we are refusing to act boldly and decisively in this moment, when it is so crucial that we do so.

I admit, on the one hand it all makes me feel weary, this continual apathy on the part of so many global leaders and the constant bickering about climate change by certain insidious media types and political news grabbers. 

But then, in my session, there were these enthusiastic young educators, singing along, doing the actions, excited about ecology programs they’re creating with their kids and suddenly my energy’s back!  My determination to, at the very least, take each moment of this life that I have been gifted, to find ways to inspire kids to love and honor this planet by continuing to create resources and programs that can contribute to the growing abundance of work out there.  

I didn't begin this Blog  to rant, there's plenty of exasperation out there, so forgive me this slight deviation.  However, as Chief Lyons pointed out, "Nature's laws are not negotiable...and Cap and Trade is the temple of doom."  How can we rob our children and the next generations of a healthy, abundant planet, I mean really, how can we?  

Earth Hero Activity
Invite kids to seek out someone who is their Earth Hero; someone who has inspired them with their work to protect the planet, a particular species or habitat.  Rachel Carson, John Muir, Wangari Maathai, Sylvia Earle and Jane Goodall are just a few.

Story: The story of Chipko
SongDolphin Teach Us To Play Celebrate being alive!
Here are some interesting Blogs I came across lately - No Student Left Indoors
I'm A Teacher Get Me Outside

Thanks for reading, for caring, for doing all that you do to raise awareness and the quality of life for all beings; each one of us can make a difference, so lets act together now to really make change happen.
In gratitude for this life, nourished unselfishly by this precious, fragile planet.
Photo by Georgia Emery

Monday, September 6, 2010

Communion and Connection!

I read something this week that sparked my imagination and got me reflecting on the way in which today’s proliferation of social media, screen time, and constant connecting affects our deeper ability for communion and connection, with each other, and with the larger community of life.

The article, by David Spangler, alluded to him asking his daughter why she didn’t just call her friends instead of constantly texting them.  She replies sweetly,
“If we called each other, we’d have to have something to talk about!”
David responds, “But aren’t you talking to each other when you’re texting?”
“Oh, no”, she replied. “we’re not talking, we’re connecting.”  

The article continues with Spangler exploring the difference between communication for the purpose of conveying information and communication intended to create communion and to build connection.  You can read the full article at David's Desk.

In the face of such formidable and alluring competitors as the Internet, the cellphone and the video game, (not to mention the TV!), how can we re-ignite in children a sense of communion and connection to nature?  Basically, it’s going to take a lot of work, commitment and determination on the part of parents, teachers and grandparents!  Something that was once just a natural part of life (kids playing outdoors), has morphed into a scheduled activity!  The good news is that there are some wonderful resources to help you back onto the path of re-discovering the outdoors with your children!

Here are some Blogs and websites that I've found along the way that you might find helpful!

Teacher, Juliet Robertson’s Blog “I’m A Teacher, Get Me Outside here!” has some wonderful ideas!
Beth Almeras is The Grass Stained Guru and she shares lots of fun tips for immersing kids in nature!
The  Children & Nature Network  provides plenty of information as well as reminders of why it's so important for us to reconnect our children back to nature.
Out Bound Family provides fun ideas for family activities - a useful resource
Eartheasy – provides solutions for sustainable living has some very useful links to environmental websites for kids.

Songs! Well, of course it being my blog, I am bound to recommend a song or two to sing as you meander down the garden path! I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today, is a favorite, and it names lots of critters you can look out for along the way!
Stories! A short break on your hike provides the perfect moment for a story!  Here’s an easy one to learn that reminds us that each of us carries within the beauty of the universe: The Stars Inside

I am not able to write as many posts as before since I am working full time on producing a new half-hour Curious Kids TV Show for WGCU Public Media (  There is a wealth of useful information and links in the archives of this Blog; I urge you to take a look.  I will be releasing my new CD and launching a companion website very soon, so stay tuned and thanks, as always for taking the time to read and share this Blog.

Have fun communing and connecting with/to this beautiful Earth!
In gratitude for life.
Photo by Chip Hoffman

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Setting Our Intentions!

I heard something this week that I just loved; it was someone describing how their mother arose each day before dawn just so that she could send out her intention for the day.  As if by witnessing the dawn, and sending out one’s prayers, one could partake in influencing the unfolding of that day in a positive way. 

Sages have long practiced such early morning meditation for exactly this reason; sending out their intentions and prayers to heal and inspire all beings.  

With kids heading back to school, I wanted to share this idea with teachers so that perhaps this semester they could gather their students together and collectively set their intentions to protect and preserve this very battered planet and help build a more peaceful, just, kind and harmonious world in which we can all live. 

So here are a few ideas of how it could be a fun and joyful experience!

Morning Circle:  People have gathered in circles since the dawn of time; sitting in a circle allows us to see each person’s face, to listen to our fellow compatriots on this journey and get to know them a little better.  Share a song, or a poem that will set the tone for the day.  Invite each child to share one thing that they might do that day to help protect the earth; or some action they could take to bring kindness to another person, or an animal.  Create a Talking Stick and use it each time you gather in circle.

Pledge to Act!  Margaret Meade’s famous quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” is empowering.  Each one of us can make a change in our daily lives that helps to reduce our footprint on this earth, brings peace to others and builds a foundation of trust and harmony; all it takes is our decision to do so.  Make it a daily, or weekly event, to make a pledge with the children.

The Little Earth Charter;  this program for children provides a fun springboard from which to create activities that focus on protecting the earth and being socially responsible.

Songs:  Friends of the Earth is a great song to learn – it is a wonderful song to incoporate sign language.  I have had numerous student bodies sing this song to me and sign it as they are singing.  You can hear it at  Little Animation For Kids Just go to the Music Section.  Dolphin Teach Us To Play is another one that illustrates the joy and harmony of life.

Photo by Tessa Emery

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Campfire Fun!

There is something about a campfire that awakens memories of ancient times in us; we are drawn to stare into the golden flames, to reflect and imagine – at least that has been my experience from many campfire moments with adults and kids.

Storytelling comes alive as the flames flicker, and legends take on a whole new dimension, as well they should since many have been passed along on just such nights as this with everyone gathered in the glow!

I’ve shared some of my favorite stories and songs below, but here are a few fun ideas for campfire games too.  10 Campfire Games You Have to Play!  With younger kids the alphabet travel game is always fun.: you just go through the alphabet, each person choosing a different letter; start with a name, then a place and then something that comes from there.  So – my name is Alice and I come from Alabama and I am bringing apples, and so forth.

I find that just sharing personal stories can be a very moving and profound experience with children and adults.  We all have a story to tell and most good stories are the ones that recount the tale of an event in someone’s life.  Stories are as old as time and many cultures and indigenous peoples history is recorded only through their oral traditions.  Here is an interesting article  on storytelling.

Songs can add to the atmosphere, especially if everyone can join in and sing along.  Some of my favorite tunes to share with kids around a fire are the Mosquito song, Bats, bats, bats, and Slip Slitheree Dee.  I make up actions for my songs and that adds more fun for the kids – you can easily make up your own actions, or better still get the kids to!  You can fine all these songs on my MySpace page. 
Stories One of my favorite campfire stories is the Iroquois story of the Big Dipper.  Twice I have told this story and a shooting star has fallen at exactly the right moment! Amazing!  The legend of the Milky Way  is another good one.

I am back in Florida now, working on a brand new half-hour kids TV show for WGCU Public Media  We are in the midst of auditions, looking for children who will be our Curious Kids TV Hosts!  Due to this new workload my blogs will not be as frequent, but I will be posting from time to time and there is a wealth of information already written if you look through the archives.  Hope everyone is having a good summer (or winter, depending on where you are!).  Feel free to get in touch with me if you want a specific song back up on MySpace!  I will be launching a new website in the fall along with my new CD!

Stay tuned! In gratitude for life and this precious earth that sustains us all!
Photo of Campfire Eric Dufresne

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Traveling Back to Florida

If you're reading this, you will know that I am on the road again!  Traveling back to Florida, from Montreal!  I am beginning a fabulous new project, one which I have dreamed of doing my whole life!  I will be producing a Children's half-hour TV Show for WGCU Public Media (PBS) in Fort Myers, so lots of work, but an amazing opportunity to share knowledge, inspire kids to get outside and discover the marvels of the natural world, promote wellness and demonstrate our interconnectedness to the Earth and each other!

I will be resuming my Blog Posts in a few weeks, so please come back and visit!  In the meantime, if you scroll through the archives, you will find a wealth of information and ideas as well as links to some great stories and resources!

I hope your summer is going well and that we will connect again soon!
In gratitude for life and this precious Earth,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Boys Do Their Share!

It’s a weird thing, that three o’clock in the morning, wide-awake situation that happens every now and then.  Usually I just toss and turn, counting sheep and reciting every mantra I’ve ever learned ad nauseum; but this a.m. I was zapped with a sudden inspiration to write this Post.

Father’s Day’s coming up (June 20th) and my interest in all things “father” was peaked by Natural Papa's Blog Post featuring the Good Men Project.    (Interesting that it is also World Solar Day June 19th and the Sun is called “Father Sun”  by many indigenous peoples.)
Obviously I think it’s really important to nurture environmental stewardship in both boys and girls, however, through my experience visiting hundreds of schools I have noticed that girls seem to gravitate more toward eco-clubs and earth-friendly projects.   I am sure it all evens out as they all grow into adulthood, but nevertheless it can do no harm to share with kids some of the male role models in nature whose paternal attributes are worthy of notice.

Here are some examples to share with your kids or students:
1.  The Sea Horse:  This uniquely delightful fish is one of the only animal species on earth in which the male bears the unborn young!
2. Emperor Penguins: While the females make an arduous trek in search of food, it is the males who delicately balance and protect the eggs from the bitter cold elements.
3.  Emu:  The female emu lays the eggs, but it is the male who incubates them and once hatched, takes care of the chicks for up to six months!

If we are to overcome the challenges of the future, we need every boy and girl to understand that it is all of our responsibilities to care for and protect the living systems of this earth.  World Governments voted last week to set up an international body to spearhead the battle against the destruction of the natural world!  Imagine that we have to do such a thing!  One day, our children’s children will look back on this time and say “what were they thinking?”

Song: The Boys Do Their Share!– sing the song to celebrate this Father’s Day!
And here’s a Fun Video: Why's Daddy Crying? -  by JC Little of Little Animation Inc.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am writing shorter posts over the summer, particularly over the next week or so, as I am traveling and working on a new project.  I will, however, be writing from time to time and come the fall will continue with more prolific posts!  I appreciate those of you who are followers and anyone who happens to take the time to read my ramblings!  Have a great week!
In gratitude for life and this precious Earth!

Photo of Penguins: Ian Duffy - Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Ocean is Bleeding.

I was going to take a break from blogging over the summer, and I confess that my posts will be shorter and slightly less in-depth; however the practice seems to have seeped into my weekly routine and therefore I am going to try and write some short pieces and share information I find along the way!

Obviously the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has heightened everyone’s awareness of the fragility of the oceans, the vulnerability of our dependence upon its bounty and the devastating effects our reliance on oil has wrought.  With globs of red tar washing up on Florida beaches last week I heard a newscaster say that it was almost as if the ocean was bleeding.  As my heart breaks with every picture of an oil covered bird, marsh grasses tainted brown and fisher folk despairing over how they will survive the future, I wonder how we explain all this to the children.

Educator David Sobel cautions us to be careful of how much doom and gloom we expose young children to and yet with this recent incident it is hard to imagine that children have escaped the painful images.  Perhaps one way to talk to children about such events is to focus on the gifts and beauty that the oceans provide; and to remind them that while we are currently so dependent on oil, that in their lifetimes they will bear witness to an incredible transformation as we switch to clean Energy sources.  Get them excited about this, ask them about their ideas to become part of the Solution!
Learning about the ocean must also include learning the basics about water – here is a great website with Resources and links.  World Ocean Day is June 8th – maybe a bit late to organize something this week, but plan for next year, although simply acknowledging and celebrating the ocean on that day is a start!  The Smithsonian’s  Ocean Portal provides a wonderful view into the ocean for anyone to explore with an Educators Corner providing resources.
Songs:  The Coral reef song and Dolphin teach Us To Play are up on my MySpace Page  and Raffi's Baby Beluga is always a favorite!  Sing one of them on World Ocean Day!
Story:  Here is an amazing website with Stories of the Ocean from around the world!

Yes, the oil spill is a terrible disaster that will have repercussions for years, but lets hope that out of it may come a stronger resolve to lessen our collective addiction to oil and work to bring clean energy solutions everywhere.
Have a great week everyone.
In gratitude for life and this precious Earth!

More Clean Energy Resources:
Drawings by: Rosie Emery
PS If you'd like to become part of my new Kids CD "I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!", please pledge your support to be the first to receive it! Thank you!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing: Wrap Up!

A beautiful Swallowtail butterfly flew into my windscreen today as I was driving.   Zap, its short life diminished to a smear; there wasn’t much I could do but say a quick prayer of gratitude for its life, accept responsibility for its death, and be relieved upon exiting the highway to see lots more of them, fluttering in all their glory! Thankfully they seem abundant, unlike so many other species that are facing challenging times.

This is my last post in the series that has focused on the song I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! since we have arrived at the last verse!  I hope it has provided some insight into of the abundance and diversity of species living all around us, even in urban centers and inspired ideas for introducing children to these neighborhood characters!
I know that I write from a place of privilege since much of my childhood was spent in nature.  For me, hours spent watching water bugs, tadpoles and dragonflies was the norm; collecting wild flowers and then carefully pressing them into books was a precious pastime and summer afternoons lying under the horse chestnut tree dreaming of the pony express riders somewhere in that vast land called America gifted me with a treasure chest of memories.  

My family was not wealthy; sure, we lived in the country, and our garden bordered on a forest and fields with ponds and streams, but my rich experience of the natural world came from the fact that I was not allowed to stay indoors.   I was told to go and play outside!  I’ve heard the excuses given by many parents today and I don’t dispute that the world is a different place now; it does appear scarier and there do seem to be more dangerous people around.  I am not here to diminish the very real fears that plague parents today. 

However, I do believe that we are robbing our children of a valuable lifeline if we do not find ways to connect them to nature; one that is inherently important to their own well being and creativity as much as it is vital for the future preservation of the planet.  Increasing research, particularly that of author Richard Louv, demonstrates that Nature Deficit Disorder is real and needs to be addressed.  

A recent article in Wired magazine illustrates how the Web “Shatters Focus and Rewires our Brains.” It certainly made me step back and assess how much time I spend a day online (I purposely kept myself off the computer most of this weekend!).  Kids today live vicariously through their screens; they text, surf the web and socialize on Facebook, Twitter and other networks and watch a lot of TV.  Lets get kids back outdoors!  It’s not about money, its about recognizing that we have a problem here and making a concerted effort to address it anyway we can; we owe it to our kids and to the planet which gives us all life.
  Verse 5
Well I didn’t go far, just stepped outside,
Cost no money to take this ride
It’s quite amazing what you see,
When you open the door and feel the breeze!
Lesson Ideas!
1.  Step outside! Gather up jars, tweezers, magnifying glasses and off you go!  Create a Scavenger Hunt, just begin!  Kids are naturally curious and nature is full of opportunities to nurture that curiosity!

2.  Take kids outdoors to the backyard, park or schoolyard (if it is not covered by concrete) and ask each child mark out a square of land approximately 3’ by 3’ (you can use something like cornmeal to demarcate the boundaries).  Have them study that piece of land, noting down every living thing that is there, or that visits the patch while they are observing. They can use their magnifying glasses and dig up a piece of the earth to see what is underneath.  In the Secret Life of the Suburban Garden you will see that quite the variety of species was discovered!

3.  A Day in My Backyard!   Write a “Backyard” Play all about the creatures that live there.  First identify some of the species that you see; learn about them; draw pictures of them and then collectively write a story about a day in the life of...the little brown rabbit...the little black snail, or whomever you choose!  You could make it a musical – I have quite a few songs about animals , (bats, spiders, skunks, raccoons, chickadees) and so do other artists!  Here is a great Critter Catalogue that can help to identify species.

Urban centers have grown and sprawled across this planet.  Yes, there are thankfully still large tracts of land preserved as National Parks and conservation sanctuaries, but for wildlife, particularly migrating species, they must seem few and far between.  Creating Wildlife Corridors  is one way in which we can help many species. Once you have begun to learn what species live or travel through your neighborhood, explore what kinds of plants and trees could be planted to benefit them.  In doing this you will also create a beautiful oasis that lives and breathes in amongst the concrete! 

Grandmother Spider, the Chickadee Blues, Bats, Punk the Skunk, Rocky Raquino and I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  All these are up on my MySpace page.  My new CD, all about the backyard, will be ready by mid July – if you would like to be the first to get a copy please sign up on my Kickstarter page! 
One of my most favorite books as a child was The Secret Garden  If your kids or students have not read this timeless classic, then I would recommend that they do so.  There is also the Secret Garden Movie, which would be a pleasant rainy day activity!

Have a great week, enjoy the days out under the trees exploring this magical earth!
In gratitude for life, and this beautiful planet upon which we live!


Photo of Swallowtail butterfly Mila Zinkova
Photo of young girl by Tessa Emery
Other photos by Rosie Emery

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing: Bridge

The sweetness of an early summer evening, the soft sunlight shimmering through the green leaves; the smell of lilacs, oh such delicious perfume!  When I am in Montreal, I live on the edge of a beautiful neighborhood, with lots of trees and parks.  I’m happy to say there are more and more gardens with wild edges covered in dandelions and greenery, providing a biodiversic (not sure if that’s a qualified word, but it should be!) haven for the birds and the bees!

I saw a bat as I was walking home tonight, flitting fast through the air catching early insects for dinner.  Bats are having a hard time right now with the onset of White Nose Syndrome, which is decimating hundreds of them.  Bees, bats, frogs, coral reefs -  the canary is singing really loudly in the coal mine!  The good news is that people are trying to make changes in any way that they can; planting native gardens, buying food from local farmers markets, taking public transit, recycling, saving energy and water, writing to politicians and just paying attention.  You cannot focus on the enormity of it all, you just have to keep doing whatever you can, to raise the quality of life for all sentient beings.  Don’t get bogged down by the bad news, the constant barrage of negativity; it numbs us and creates apathy and that is the last thing we need.

This week we’re on to the bridge of the song “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!”.  Here we go:
As the sun went down
Saw a little brown bat,
Flying through the air catching all those gnats!
Had me a wish on a star in the sky
Just before I left I saw a firefly!
Lesson Ideas!
One of the most abundant bat species in North America, these nocturnal mammals have been impacted by the White Nose Syndrome  Introducing kids to bats early on is a good way to quell the irrational fear that seems to surround them.  Bats are important to ecological balance as well as being extremely Beneficial  to farmers.  With the onset of diseases like West Nile disease, which is primarily spread through mosquitoes, having bats around is instrumental in diminishing its spread.  Bats feed on a variety of insects and of course some bats feed on fruit and berries.  Vampire bats do indeed exist, feeding off the blood of  sleeping animals.  Which kind of bat species live in your neighborhood?  Have any of the kids seen one?  Investigate which species lives nearby and learn everything you can about it.  If you can, build a Bat House, or ask someone in the community to help you build it and put it up. This Website  has some fun information and activities on different Bats.
2.  Why do we wish on a star?  Ask students to think about this, discuss it with them; what is it about stars, that captures our imagination so much that we would wish upon one?  What are stars?  NASA has a nice program you can explore, called StarChild; look at some incredible photos such as the one above which is the Birth of Stars or Stars – beautiful images captured by the Herschel telescope.  Have your students ever seen a night sky filled with stars?  Living in the city, many of them might not have had this experience.  Find out if there is a Planetarium close to you that you could possibly visit with students. The NASA Kids Club Club has some fun activities you can use. We are made up of Stardust, so perhaps that is why the stars hold so much fascination for us; or maybe it is just our innate sense of curiosity about the mystery of this infinite universe in which we live!  Our cosmic heritage!

3. Firefly!  There is something magical about witnessing fireflies sparkling in the darkness of a summer night! Fireflies  are actually a kind of beetle, with wings that are in the same family as glowworms.  Ask students if they’ve ever seen a firefly?  Maybe they haven’t; here is a Video showing them glowing in the dark. So, how do fireflies produce their light?  They use Bioluminescence; and how does Bioluminescence work?  Glowing animals typically create light through Luminescence, mixing together chemical compounds to produce a glow.  Plants and Animals use bioluminescence including many Sea Creatures  So, the big question for inquiring minds both the male and female fireflies flash their lights?  Does the female have an ulterior Motive?

Bats, insects, stars and fireflies...hmmm let me see!  Bats predate on insects and help to maintain an ecological balance; fruit bats are crucial for seed dispersal.  Bat Guano is an effective natural fertilizer that can be used to enrich soil that is deficient in organic matter.  The larvae of fireflies help to maintain ecological balance in the soil since their diet consists mostly of cutworms, snails and grubs.  As for the stars, well since we are all made up of stardust, that make us pretty interconnected, no?

In addition to “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!”, you will find the Bat song on my MySpace page, and here is a cute Video  of that song too. 
These Native American Sky Legends have some good stories. The Legend of Quito shows how a city was founded because of a falling star!  Here's some more Folklore about stars and meteors.

Have a great week and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are!  If you enjoy my songs and would like to support the music, please join my Kickstarter Fundraiser which will give you a copy of my new CD!
In gratitude for life and this precious Earth!

Information on Bats
For Fun – Here’s 50 signs of Good Luck from around the world!
More information on Fireflies
Make a “Firefly Diorama

Photo of Lilac Sten Porse Wikimedia Commons
Little brown Bat photo by Don Pfritzer US Fish & Wildlife
Firefly on leaf by Cyphonocerus, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of firefly with light by Emmanuelm, Wikimedia Commons 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing: Verse 4

I’m healing from some minor surgery; it wasn’t too serious but nonetheless an invasion of the body, and any such intrusion leaves one’s system shaken and one’s heart grateful for the precious gift of health!   Imagine how the Earth must feel, with the daily invasions ubiquitously seeping into every nook and cranny.  The oil continues to gush into the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico; so many crushed lives, both in the ocean and out.  Will this be the final straw that pushes both the US and Canadian governments to finally recognize that we must embrace alternative energy?  I sure hope so.

Here in Montreal, I think I can safely say that we are on our way to summer!  The trees are in bloom, the leaves such a vibrant green, its luscious and glorious and I am forever stopping on my walks to gasp at the beauty!  So....this Post is Verse 4 of I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Who are we going to find in the backyard?  It's all about birds this week!  And while the three species of birds I am featuring are all quite common, each one has their own particularities!  Everything in nature is intricate and fascinating if we just dig a little!
                                                   Verse 4
Heard me the cry of a red-tailed hawk,
A big old crow went “cawk, cawk, cawk”!
Listened to the cooing of a little grey dove
As he sidled up to his life-long love!
Lesson Ideas
1.  Red-tailed hawk  You are unlikely to see a red-tailed hawk in the center of the city, although these days anything is possible!  However, if you are close to a large park, or on the edge of town near open fields, you might be lucky enough to see one.  They are a magnificent bird to study with an easily recognizable call.  As carnivores, they play an important role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems, feeding on small mammals such as rabbits and rodents as well as snakes.  Teaching children how to identify these birds helps to spark their interest as they become able to identify them both visually and auditorily; encourage children to keep an eye out for them when traveling, makes the journey more interesting!  I love to spot raptors along the roadside.  Here is an in-depth Lesson Plan called Radical Raptors
2. Crow  Crows and other birds in the Corvidae Family such as ravens, rooks and blue jays, are all survivors; they are adept at adapting to their surroundings, which is why they do so well in urban centers.  They are wily birds, not afraid to intimidate others to get what they want, and new studies have revealed how wild crows use Tools.   Begin by exploring some of their similarities and differences – just being able to identify a crow from a raven is a start!  Invite kids to list some of the variations such as: the shapes of their bills, wings and tails; the sound of their calls; their size; where they live and what they eat.  How many different species of crow and raven are there in the world?  Here are answers to some Frequently asked questions about Crows and here is another interesting Website that has a research component attached to it.  Ravens have long been featured in indigenous mythology and scientists are beginning to discover just how Smart they are!
3.  A little grey dove!  Just to give you an idea of how many kinds of pigeons and doves there are in the world, take a look at this Website! The bird that I was thinking about when I wrote the song, is the Mourning Dove, a graceful bird, whose distinctive call frequently greets my Florida mornings! In addition to learning about this bird, explore with children why the dove has become a symbol for Peace.  Invite kids to draw their own pictures of doves and to write a short story or poem to go with it. Here are some birds that are used as Peace symbols in other cultures.  It is thought that Mourning doves are monogamous, and while there seems to be continued discussion about this,  watching them perched close to each other on a wire, or rooftop, it's easy to imagine that they share some kind of strong bond!
Here is a short Video to watch with students, showing how habitat is one of the most important ways to identify birds  Finally, here's a question - where does the Mourning dove get its name from?

While all these birds are common we would be wise to teach kids about the demise of the Passenger Pigeon.  In this fast changing world, even the most adaptable species can suddenly become at risk.  Learning how species interact with their habitats is a good way to discover the interconnections of life.  This Website has some great links that demonstrate how the red-tailed hawk and other species are intertwined with different habitats.
Song  In addition to I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  Here is a cute song about Crows
There are many legends and stories that include ravens and crows, here is one from the Tlingit Nation, simply titled Raven and while I did not find a story about Mourning dove, I did discover that a woman called  Mourning Dove was a very interesting Native American novelist!

I hope you all have a great week, enjoy this beautiful time of year when everything is so fresh, well that is here in this hemisphere!  Please do feel free to contact me if I can be of any help in your seeking of educational content on nature.
In gratitude for Life and this Earth!

Photo of Close-up of red-tailed hawk 
Red-tailed hawk by Derek Ramsey,  Wikimedia
Crow photo by American Crow – Wikimedia
Mourning dove photo by

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Verse 3

Thank you to my mother, who inspired great strength in me!

It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday, and I thank Michael Pata, a Twitter friend and Animal Enthusiast, who shared these wonderful Wildlife Photos of Animal Mothers earlier this week!  The Dalai Lama often says, “We have all been somebody’s mother, and everyone has once been our mother.”  In other words, we should treat every being we meet with the respect and kindness that we would show to our own mother.  

I am a mother of two beautiful human beings, a son and daughter, and they continue to be my greatest teachers.  I am grateful to know them both and love them dearly.   For many Indigenous people the Earth is our mother and as they so aptly say: “Mother Earth can live without us but we cannot live without her!” Cultivating a deep respect and caring for the Earth and all its creatures in young children can help encourage a lifetime of earth stewardship.  I remember my favorite hymn as a child, was All Things Bright and Beautiful!  In hindsight, I think that song has resonated through my life!

This week I am focusing on Verse three of my song “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!”; it is amazing to me how this one song could provide an entire semester’s curriculum, and you get to have the kids sing the song at the end!  It is also a nice reminder of the biodiversity that is inches away from our doorstep!  Here we go...

                                                     Verse 3
Caught me the scent of a wild pink rose,
Felt soft grass between my toes;
Followed the trail of a little black snail,
Found me the feather from a blue jay’s tail!

Lesson Ideas!
1.  Wild Rose In today’s world, roses are often thought of as simply flowers to give someone special on a variety of Hallmark occasions.  Wild roses, however, like many other plants and herbs, provide important sustenance, medicine and delight to those who understand their gifts.   Teach students about the properties of the wild rose, rosehips and the wood rose.  Make a list of all the different ways in which humans can use this delicate flower, its leaves and root.  If you can, go on a walk to a park or field where wild roses might be growing – often they are in back alleys or gardens.

2. Grass! “Felt soft grass beneath my toes!”  Unfortunately a lot of the grass on modern lawns isn’t as soft as it used to be!   One of my favorite childhood memories of summer is of running barefoot on the grass, no fear of pesticides or anything else.  As it turns out, the evolution of the grass lawn is quite a history lesson and as with so many things human, it's a story tied to a Machine!  And then of course there is the evolution of Grass, which is in fact a flowering plant.  Prairie Grass which made up so much of the grasslands, is now one of the most endangered habitats in Canada.  Perhaps you could plant a patch of prairie grass in your schoolyard!  Lots of ways in which you can explore grass with students, from its evolution to its relevance to so many different species.  
3.  Little black snail!  Snails don’t tend to be on most people’s favorite critter list, and slugs can certainly be ubiquitous and harmful to a garden!  However, as with all species, they play their role in the interconnectedness of life and have some fascinating traits!  All About Snails will give you some insight into the biology of snails.  The Black Mystery Snail originates from Brazil, and as its name suggests, it is a bit of a mystery!  Invite students to learn about snails, to list what their role is in an ecosystem.  With older students you could explore The Living Machines – these are a series of ecosystems designed to clean waste water – snails are one of the species used in these beautiful, non-toxic systems.

4. Blue Jay !  One of the prettiest of the more common birds, and certainly one that’s easy to spot in urban environments!  Have a Blue Jay spotting contest, to see who manages to see one first!  Invite kids to draw and color pictures of blue jays.   One of the easiest ways to identify blue jays is their call – you can hear them coming because they are like the alarm system of the neighborhood!  Here is a cool Website that plays it for you.

Interconnections!  Birds, snails, flowers and grass; all important elements of  Biodiversity Oftentimes emphasis is focused on the larger species, the more flashy, endearing characters of nature.  But in real life, it is the ordinary, not so flashy species and people that weave the fabric upon which all life and society flourish.  Teach kids how every lowly snail and ant working away inconspicuously is just as important as a polar bear or an elephant.  Similarly, it is the multitude of people working hard in so many different jobs, that builds the foundation upon which a healthy society is formed.  Each one is important in his or her own way.  

Songs I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today, is obviously one of the songs for this Post; the Ant song can also be used.  I found this fun little Snail song – Bob the Snail

Story  Here is a Legend about Blue Jay from the Cowichan Tribe, the Coast Salish History; and for young kids, here is the story of  Slimy the Snail!

Wishing everyone a great week, may the qualities of motherhood inspire us to be kind and compassionate with ourselves, everyone we meet and all living beings.
In gratitude, for my mother, for life and this precious Earth!
PS. If you like the song Butterflies Kissing, you can help support the CD and get your own copy as soon as it is released by pledging $10 at Kickstarter.

Video and more information on Prairies
Photos of wild pink rose by Silberchen – Wikimedia
Photo of Lawn SB _Johnny - Wikimedia
Black snail by Hakan Scensson (Xauxa) - Wikimedia
Blue Jay by Fish & Wildlife Service - Wikimedia

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Verse 2

Just when we thought spring had sprung, an April snowstorm literally knocked the leaves from the trees here in Montreal!  Thankfully the snow didn’t stick around, though it did pull down quite a few branches and dampen the joyful glee of many a tulip and daffodil!  

To further diminish our spirits, the oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is heading for shore portending devastation and misery for so many species and people, who must surely be feeling Solastalgia. Thankfully the Obama Administration has now abandoned their intention for future drilling in those waters.  Wake-up calls can be painful, but if heeded can prevent further damage and save lives.

Today is glorious,  the sun gradually warming the Earth in this northern place; each day bringing a veritable flurry of activity outside my window as birds begin to build nests and insects venture out from winter hideaways.  The gardens and parks are filled with activity, there’s plenty for a curious young mind to discover!   Continuing on from last week I’m exploring the creatures featured in my song “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!” aiming to show how one song can provide a wealth of lesson ideas!
                                                 Verse 2
I saw me a spider, yellow and black,
A column of ants and a Whisky Jack!
Hummingbird with a ruby throat
A little brown rabbit with the softest coat!

Lesson Ideas:
1.  Black and Yellow Garden Spider Argiope aurantia!  Many people are scared of spiders (myself included), and yet most spiders are harmless even if they look intimidating.  Introducing children to the ecology of spiders early on can help to mitigate these fears and instead spark an interest in arachnids.  Spider’s Silk, for example, is one of the strongest materials in the world, relative to its weight; spiders can lay between 2 and 1000 eggs, depending on the species and some spiders weave new webs every night!  Learn about the species of spider that live in your neighborhood.  Are there any poisonous ones?  If so, make sure the children can recognize them.  Here are some more Ideas for creating a lesson plan on spiders. 

2.  Ants! Here is a previous  Blog Post that I wrote about Ants, which has Lesson Plan ideas and stories. 
3. Whiskey Jack also known as the Canada Jay or Grey Jay is resident from Alaska east across Canada in Boreal forests; and in the western mountains own to New Mexico and Arizona.   These birds are omnivores that feed on meat, insects, fruits and seeds; they have a reputation as rascals and camp robbers, frequenting campsites and stealing any food they can find!  The name Whiskey Jack is derived from the word Wesakechak used in the Algonquin family of Aboriginal languages of eastern Canada to describe a mischevious, trickster character who liked to play tricks on people. Introduce Kids to this hardy bird that survives well in its northern environment.  Has anyone ever seen one?  What other birds manage to survive through cold winters?  How do birds survive such cold temperatures?

4.  Ruby-throated Hummingbird One of the most fascinating birds to learn about; from their amazing flight abilities to the thousands of kilometers they travel during migration, these tiny power houses are a great species to study with kids.  Use the journey of the hummingbird as a geography lesson; where do they migrate to and how long does it take them to get there?  Invite young children to draw pictures of the hummingbird; what do they eat?   What does a hummingbird nest look like, and what materials do they use to make these tiny constructions.  Why do hummingbirds play an important role in pollination? Finally, hummingbirds have one rather unusual enemy, an insect that can prove to be a deadly opponent, Preying Mantis
5. Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae, of the order Lagomorpha (which includes hares); the most common rabbits are the European and Cottontail rabbit which have spread out across the world.  Are there any rabbits in your neighborhood?  Have the children seen them?  Maybe some kids have pet rabbits!  Rabbits have been around for a long time and fossil remains have been found in Mongolia  that date back 55 million years!   Learn about rabbits and how they affect the communities in which they live.  With older kids you can really study the toll that they have had in countries like Australia.

Nature is a delicate balance and when there is imbalance, trouble arrives.  The example of rabbits in Australia serves as a reminder that when humans introduce species, there can be grave consequences.  Spiders and ants might not be the most attractive insects and yet they are vital to their ecological community.  Many biologists believe that some plants have evolved the shape of their flowers to attract hummingbird, evolving the color and shape of their flowers to be more attractive to them.  All things are connected and no species can prosper in isolation, not even human beings.

The Story of Arachne Arachne  and of course, How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun
Songs:  I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  The Ants Song,  Grandmother Spider are uploaded to my MySpace page.  The Chickadee Blues is there too - a fun song about a bird that survives cold northern winters!

If you enjoy my songs and would like to help support my new CD you can help by pledging $10 to get your copy on Kickstarter!  Have a wonderful week exploring the wonders of the backyard!
In gratitude for Life, and this beautiful Earth!

Bird in Tree by Carolyn Herriot
Spider by Patrick Edwin Moran – Wikimedia
Whisky Jack by Mdf – Wikimdeia
Hummingbird by Michelle Lynn Reynolds – Wikimedia
Rabbit by US Fish & Wildlife Service

Monday, April 26, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Verse One

I’m back in Montreal after spending 10 days in Winnipeg working on my new Children's CD: 
I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! The recording is the first phase of a larger project; the second stage will be to create an accompanying book focused on many of the fascinating backyard critters waiting to be discovered.  The key is curiosity!
I spent hours, as a child, watching tadpoles in ponds, waiting for dormice in corn fields, gazing at scurrying clouds through sun dappled leaves and tending to my dearest friends, an injured crow and a friendly pigeon.  The song, Butterflies Kissing illustrates the diversity of species that can be found simply by stepping outside our homes and schools!  
So, for the next few weeks I am going to go through the verses of my song, “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!” and explore the species mentioned in each verse!  In this way, I aim to provide you with some ideas for introducing your children or students to the biodiversity that surrounds us.  
                                               Verse One  
I saw me a frog, as green as a tree,
A little yellow bird and a bumblebee;
A damselfly, bright electric blue,
And a ladybug landed on my shoe!

 Lesson Plans
1.  Discover any green tree frogs in your neighborhood.  American Green Tree Frogs  like the one in the picture, are one of the most endearing amphibians!  Found in many backyards across the southern United States, their green color helps them to hide successfully in foliage.  Other species of green tree frog include those in Australia, and the Pacific Northwest - here is a Video of one croaking!  Cuban Tree Frogs are considered an Invasive Species in Florida and they are thought to hitchhike in on ornamental plants.
2.   Yellow Warblers are one of my favorite birds!  They have a wide range across North America and down into northern South America and have even been seen in the Galapagos Islands  Look at the Range map to see where they live or migrate through, relative to your home.  In the UK you might see a little yellow bird called the Yellow Hammer; yellowhammer also live in New Zealand.  Make your lesson a voyage of discovery!  Follow the little yellow bird around the world, beginning in your own backyard!  Write a story about the bird's migration adventures, the places it sees, the food it eats, the other species it encounters.
3.  Bumblebees, like honeybees are crucial for the pollination of many plants species upon which we depend for food.  These bees lived in the wild for centuries before humans began to Domesticate them due to the fact that their tongues are longer than honeybees therefore enabling them to pollinate a greater variety of flowers.  Introduce younger children to bumblebees through Crafts, Stories and Activities and take them outside to a garden so that they can watch them.  Be sure to explain that bees, unlike wasps, will die if they use their sting, therefore they are not looking to sting anyone! Here is a Lesson Plan for older Kids.
4. Watching blue-tailed damselflies down by the lake in the summer is just magical!  Their turquoise blue and black coloration is exquisite!  Introduce children to the Lifecycle of the Damselfly  What are some of the Differences between dragonflies and damselflies?  Take the kids outside to see if you can find some; they like to hang out close to water or where there are lots of flowers.  The Lifecycles of frogs, dragonflies and butterflies are similar; here is a Lesson Plan for K-2 students.
5.  Most people like Ladybugs  and with good reason, because they are Beneficial insects; this means that they feed on other insects that are considered pests such as aphids.  Ladybugs are actually beetles, and are common in most habitats.  Ladybug Larvae are also predators, and while they may look dangerous, they are quite harmless to humans. If you have a garden at your school or home, you can order  Live Ladybugs and release them there.  Here are some ideas for Lesson Plans that might be helpful to you and here are some Cool LadyBug Facts to share.

All of the above species play an important role in maintaining the diversity of ecosystems.  Warblers help to disperse plants because they ingest seeds which are released through their feces as they fly about.  Ladybugs help to prevent infestations of insects that are harmful to crops and fruits.  Damselflies and dragonflies eat large quantities of insects and are in turn predated upon by a variety of species including fish and frogs.  Bees are important pollinators and play a significant role in pollinating many of the plants, which provide us with food.  Create a wall chart for each verse of the song using pictures linked together by their connections.

Song - I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  Here is A LadyBug Song for young kids!

Stories - Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar is great for younger children. For older children here are some Dragonfly Legends  And then there is the story of King Solomon and the Bee

Enjoy your week exploring nature in the backyard!  
In gratitude for life and this Earth!

The Movie Dirt is coming out soon.  It illustrates who soil is so important to us all.
The Girl and the Robin is a true story I came across this week that is very touching.

Photo of Yellow Warbler by Mdf – Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Bumblebee by Dodudah – Wikimedia
Photo of Common Bluetail Damselfly by Laitche  
Photo of Ladybug by Alvesgaspar
Photo of Butterflies Kissing by StevenMiller