Sunday, January 31, 2010

12 Weeks to Earth Day! Week 5: The Earth!

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” Wendell Berry

I have always loved this Earth.  I come from it; it cradles me, sustains me, perpetually amazes and inspires me!  But I do not see this Earth through rose- colored glasses; I know it can be a dangerous and forbidding place.  And yet I also relish those moments that catch my breath; the shaft of sunlight illuminating the green universe of a leaf; a group of black skimmers gliding across a calm, turquoise ocean at sunset; the Rocky Mountains rising crisp and clear into the bluest of skies.   Earth’s beauty can lift me up, throw me out into a place only poetry can describe. 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing or right doing there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.  When the Soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.  Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.” Rumi

There is a teaching story out of the Norwest Indian Tradition that I learned of from poet David Whyte.  This would be told to every young person who asked “What do I do if I get lost in the forest?”  Which is really a metaphor for “What do I do when I forget who I am?”

“Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost.  Wherever you are is called “Here”. And you must treat is as a powerful stranger; must ask permission to know it and be known.  The forest breathes.  Listen.  It answers: ‘I have made this place around you.  If you leave it you may come back again saying, here, no two trees are the same to Raven, no two branches are the same to wren.  If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, you art surely lost.  Stand still.  The forest knows where you are.  You must let it find you.”

What would your children or students do if they were lost in the woods?  Would they be afraid?  Have they ever practiced “noticing” the landscape of a forest, or a place in nature?  Perhaps you could go out into the nearest wooded area and walk through it together noting the different features – what kinds of trees, spaces, clearings.

How do we impart this sense of belonging to young people growing up in this fast, urban, technological age?  I am not really sure, however, any opportunity to take youngsters out into nature should definitely be seized upon!  As I’ve mentioned before, seeking ways in which to cultivate a sense of awe and empathy in children is important since:

“In the end we will conserve only what we love.  We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum
Lesson Plans:
1.  The Little Earth Charter Principle No. 5 is The Earth.  Plant seeds of something edible – tomatoes, sunflowers, beans or peas!  Watching seeds grow into something they can eat helps children to connect to the source of that which sustains them!  It can be the seed which grows their Amazement!

2.  How much life could you find in one cubic foot?   To answer this question, photopgrapher David Liittschwager took a green metal frame, a 12 inch cube, to disparate environments – land and water, tropical and temperate.  Look What He Found!  
Show this to your students and, depending on where you live, ask them to create a similar experiment in the nearest natural habitat.  Even if it's a snowy winter wonderland, you can find plenty of LIFE around!

3.  Show your students some Awesome examples of Nature; like this Golden Cloth made from the silk of 1 Million Golden Orb Spiders!  Look at how some Animals  View the World!  Learn how Scientists now believe that Dolphins are the second smartest Animals: Ask them to write about their most Awesome experience of nature; ask young children to draw theirs.  Watch the Video: Wisdom of the Wild.

4.  The Secret Life of Dead Trees .  There is no such thing as a “dead” tree,  since the organic matter is simply being transformed into something else, and used in the meantime as habitat for some species or other!  Look for trees in your neighborhood that are standing dead.  What wildlife can your students observe living there.  Are there any birds, such as hawks, owl or woodpeckers that frequent the snags?

Interconnections:  The Dangers of Plastic Bags Watch this slide presentation with your students.  There are hundreds of islands of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean Gyre; made up of plastics and other debris, these horrible masses of junk are a testament to human waste. 

Green Action of the Week:  Challenge students, your children and your family to not use one single plastic bag for at least a week!  Already many stores around the world are charging for plastic grocery bags and San Francisco was the first US City to ban them.

Song: I have uploaded Friends with the Earth for this post.  A friend of mine, film maker Anne-Marie Miles, just recently posted a video she made using this song.  You can see it here on YouTube  
Story One of my favorites:  The Lorax

I Hope this Post is helpful to you.  I wish you a meaningful, joyful week!
In gratitude to the Earth for Life!

Photo of Earth: NASA
Animation by JC Little of

Sunday, January 24, 2010

13 Weeks to Earth Day: Week 4: The Past

This Post is dedicated to Dave Boynton

"What you need to know about the past is that no matter what has happened, it has all worked together to bring you to this very moment.  And this is the moment you can choose to make everything new.  Right now!"  Anonymous

For the most part, I try to live in the present; however,  I believe that I am not only the sum of my personal life experience, but of life in its entirety.   I think that it’s important to look and learn from the past both from our mistakes and our achievements.  We humans collectively seem to have a somewhat short memory when it comes to both!

When it comes to the environment there are certainly lessons to be learned from the past!  The story of Easter Island is one good example and there are many more; some are stories of destruction, as in Latin America and the Caribbean ,Africa and other places, but there are plenty of Success Stories too,  proving that increased education is helping us to mend our ways when it comes to environmental damage.  There is still a long way to go, but every step counts.
Lesson Plans

1.  The Little Earth Charter Principle No:  4 is The Past!  With younger children, 4 – 8,  explore people living in the past, how they lived, what their lives were like.  Are there any things that we do today that are similar?  What can we learn from them?  One example of how we have recently learned from the past is recycling.  Recycling has become almost universal in many developed countries; before recycling, all those products went to the landfill.  When did we begin to make all those products?  How did people in the past dispose of their garbage?  What kind of garbage did they have?

2.  For older children take a look at some of the species that have become extinct.  China’s rare  River Dolphin  is one of the most recent animals to disappear; the Hawaiian O O Bird bird is another.  On the other hand there are quite a few success stories showing that when people discover something is wrong, they can work together to reverse the situation.  The Blue Butterfly is one example,  and the Osprey, another.  Ask your students to research some recent environmental success stories and examine why they were successful.  Are there any examples in your community of changes that people have made to protect the environment?

3.  Invasive or Introduced species can completely change ecosystems, for the most part in a negative way.  The Hawaiian Islands were once a flourishing haven of biodiversity and all the species that lived there came by wing, water or air.  The only native mammals were the Hawaiian Hoary Bat and the Hawaiian Monk seal.  The arrival of the first humans brought pigs, deer and other species that soon began to devastate the ecosystems.  Ask students to find other examples of species that have been introduced into a region in the past,  thereby affecting change to the present day ecology.  What do the students think about this?  Some people argue that it is just nature taking its course, while others say humans must intervene, so it provides an interesting debate topic.  However, in many instances humans transport species to new countries or regions. Here is a rather scary example of how a venomous Huntsman spider hitched a ride.  

Interconnections:  The global impact of Deforestation is a good example of how past actions to the environment are now impacting the present.   From desertification to climate change,  cutting large swaths of forest impacts everyone.  Ask students to write a list of how deforestation impacts the world, from the local to the global.  You can also use this as a History Lesson since deforestation in Europe and the United States began a long time ago!

Story – The Animal's Lawsuit is a story from long ago that has lessons that pertain to many of our present-day circumstances.  This organization in the UK has turned it into a Play and they are workshopping it in schools around London.  I highly recommend buying the Book; it is a remarkable read.

Songs:  I am always cautious about sharing too much information about extinction with young children, however, it is a fact of life and therefore I have written songs about this subject.  One is the O O Bird
and the bird-song featured at the beginning of the song, was given to me by Dave Boynton, a great naturalist and photographer who lived on the Island of Kaua’i.  Dave played this recording up in the mountains, after a hurricane devastated Kaua’I in 1985.  The song, which is sung by a female bird, attracted a male looking for the female.  Sadly this was the last bird to be seen, and Dave was the last person to see it, in 1987.  Dave Boynton died in a fall along Kaua’I’s Na Pali coast in 2007. The other song I have uploaded is Survivors which is about species trying to survive extinction.  These songs bring up a very important question; are we willing to stand by and allow so many more species to disappear because of our Unsustainable lifestyles?   2010 is the United Nations Year of Biodiversity, so perhaps you can talk with your students about what each one of us can do to try and mitigate this terrible decline in species.

Green Action of the Week: Plant a tree (if you can) or support an organization that plants trees, or have a fund drive to raise money to buy trees.  Learn about people like Wangari Maathai the Nobel Prize winner who began the Green Belt Movement, or watch the delightful film: The Man Who Planted Trees
Additional resources: This is kind of cool for students to see:  Maps Changing How We See the World
Hope you have a great week and that these ideas might help bring some fun and interesting discussions into your classroom or your home.
As always, in gratitude to this Earth for Life!

Drawing of the Hawaiian OO Bird by John Gerrard Keulemans from Wikipedia Commons
Animation by JC Little of
Trivia: There is a mistake in the lyrics of the song - the OO bird was last seen in 1987, so it wsa not after the hurricane of 1992.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

14 Weeks to Earth Day! Week 3: Family!


The family is one of nature's masterpieces. 
- George Santayana

I am back in Florida, with my southern “family” of friends, who, like my northern family nourish my being with their kindness and inspire my soul with their dedication and joy.  My biological family has been scattered across this Earth from early on; aside from being sent off to boarding school, we all emigrated from the UK before we were twenty!   Boarding school taught me that family is not just a biological construct; it is larger than that, it is the whole human family and the more we are open to that concept, the more we are blessed to discover brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers everywhere.

Today, we are a connected world; we receive instant feeds of information from around the globe and we form friendships and bonds with people we have never even met.  The tragic earthquake in Haiti this month demonstrated how people and governments from all corners of the Earth can mobilize to help when necessary and there is hope that together we will collaborate in the future to overcome the certain challenges awaiting us all.

So this Post is about the human family and how we might learn to celebrate our differences and learn to cooperate even more.

Lesson Plans:
1.  The Little Earth Charter- Principle No. 3 is The Family.  The Principle of Family means doing everything that you can to make sure everyone in the human family is well treated.  What do the children think that this means?  Ask them to draw pictures of themselves; collect some photographs of children in other countries and discuss how their lives are different, or the same.  Since Haiti is in the news right now, that might be a good place to begin; younger children might talk about what they would like to do to help the children there.  For older students, understanding Teachers Without Borders has a Teachers Guide to Earthquake Science and Safety.
2.  Earth Day originated in the US but is now celebrated around the world as a day which broadens support for environmental concerns, raises awareness and rekindles public commitment to protect the environment.  You can learn all about Earth Day, register your event, or find our about other events at the Earth Day Network.  2010 is the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day!  Plan something with your class, at your school or in your community.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, it could be something simple like
3.  “Sustainability is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  Brundtland Commission Report of the United Nations.   Teaching children about sustainability will help them to become better stewards of the Earth.  The US Environmental Protection Agency has some good Teaching Resources.  
4.  Dolphins, like humans, are very social animals; they travel together in pods and females give birth to live calves and are sometimes helped by other females called aunts.  Elephants are another species of animal that lives in a very structured social order.  Invite students to learn about both of these animals and to look at how their Family Structures are similar to those of humans.  All About Dolphins has some interesting information about dolphin species as does EarthTrust   Scientists say that Dolphins should be treated as “Non-Human” persons.  What do your students think about this?  Do they think that animals have feelings?  If so, is there a line to be drawn between say dolphins and ants?
5.  For younger children, play Rosie's Heart This interactive game shows kids how dolphins are connected to them through tuna fish.
Action of the Week: In celebration of Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary write up 40 Things You Can Do to Protect the Earth!  Make this into a poster and hang it in the entrance of our school!

Story: I found these personal stories of Compassion and Collaboration which illustrate the notion of the human family and people helping each other.

Songs:  There are two songs that could complement the subject of Family; one is Dolphin Teach us to Play! And the other is The Rainbow Road.  Both of these are uploaded to my MySpace page.  Have fun exploring the concept of Family! I am certainly most grateful for mine both the biological and the larger one; they sustain me and help me to be a better person.  And remember..."You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." 
 Desmond Tutu

Animation designs by JC Little at  Little Animation
If you would like to purchase a copy of the Little Earth Charter DVD you can do so at Little Animation Shop

Monday, January 11, 2010

15 Weeks to Earth Day! Week 2: We're All Interconnected!

 “To hear within ourselves the sound of the Earth crying.” John Seed

I was privileged to grow up in a magical place, Sherwood Forest; for me there was never any doubt that I was intricately connected to this Earth.  But it wasn’t until I met John Seed in 1989, and participated in the  Council of All Beings (developed by John,  Joanna Macy , Arne Naess and Pat Fleming) , that I really began to hear the sound of the Earth crying.  I was simply too busy being a mother and provider too see the destruction going on around the world. 

After that workshop, I began to research what was happening to the planet and was devastated by what I uncovered.  So much so in fact, that I plunged into a deep depression, which left me feeling hopeless about the future.  The Council of All Beings was developed to awaken our inner ear; to tune it to the primal sounds of this earth and then to transfer any sadness into action.  Thankfully, my despair was turned into determination to inspire in children a curiosity to discover, protect and preserve this earth, our home.

I wrote my song, We’re all Interconnected back in 1989; since then the phrase has become almost a cliché and I fear that it might be devalued.  I hope that we can work together to strengthen its authenticity and inclusion in the vocabulary of early childhood.

Conveying the understanding of interconnectivity to children can be as simple or as complex and you wish it to be.  Since absolutely everything is interconnected you can begin to incorporate the phrase on a daily basis, and the more you do, the more you will discover!

Lesson Plans:
1.  The Little Earth Charter: Principle No 2 - Interconnected - Watch this clip and then ask children to name some of the different things they think are important on our planet.  I suggested creating Food Energy webs in the previous Blog post; this time create a Food Audit linking the food that you eat to the places that it grows, the transportation that entails it arriving at your grocery store; the people who helped to bring it there.  You can do the same with clothes and other household items; for example what are the components that make up computers or cell phones.  Absolutely everything that we eat, wear or use comes from the Earth in some way.

2.  The Air connects us all; it circulates around the planet and moves in and out of our bodies.  I often tell kids that the air molecules they are breathing could have passed through the bodies of dinosaurs, or someone really famous like Elvis, their grandparents, or the girl or boy sitting next to them!  When we prevent air pollution it is protecting ourselves as much as it is all of life.   This Website has some fun Clean Air Activities!

3.  Water connects us.  Learning about water is a great way to teach about interconnectivity – there are some Lesson Plans about water in the Only One River, Only One Sea Blog Post I wrote in December 2009.   Coral Reefs provide insight into interconnections; there are so many different symbiotic relationships there and the reefs are crucial habitat for so many fish.  Just for fun, show these amazing photos of Snowflakes just to marvel at how water crystallizes!

4.  People!  How are we connected to each other?  The  Connected Earth website has some interesting Lesson Plans for children 7-16 showing how technology has evolved and connects us.  Apart from technology, why is it important for humans to physically interconnect with each other?  We are social beings and we need to connect to each other for comfort and community. Ask the children to create their Family Tree, to see who they are connected to.  The Ancestors are important to many cultures and there is much to be learned from them.  Here is a 4th Grade Native American Lesson Plan that you might find interesting.  The Journey of Man is a NOVA documentary that follows the genetic markers of humans to investigate how we are all connected.

Well, this whole Post is about interconnectivity, so I am not going to dwell on more of it here.  However, I will share some interesting articles I found recently that demonstrate the subtle ways in which nature is connected!  The first is about how Star Fish suck up carbon from the sea the second is about the relationship between Ants and the Acacia Tree  Here are some interesting Ocean Facts  and did you ever wonder why the sea is Salty ?  All good subjects for lessons!
Songs:  I have uploaded two songs to my MySpace page to go with this blog –  We’re All Interconnected and the Coral Reef.

Story: The story that I have always used to convey the understanding of interconnection to kids is: How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun!

Resource: The book about the Council of All Beings is:  Thinking Like A Mountain

Enjoy the journey of discovery with your children, your students and  yourself!  I am constantly AMAZED by the interconnections that I discover; I love it!  Every time I find something new, I am replenished with awe!  If you enjoy the Little Earth Charter, the DVD is for sale on the website at The Little Animation Shop and if you enjoy my songs, they are also available at a variety of Online stores.

Please do share your comments - I am here to help you and your feedback helps to guide me.  I thank each one of you for following or reading this Blog and I sincerely hope that it serves you well.
In gratitude for life and this Earth,

Design by JC Little
Photo of Spider Web from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 4, 2010

16 Weeks to Earth Day! Week One: LIFE!

Happy New Year to everyone! 

I decided that the focus my Blog for the next 16 weeks will be on ideas that might help teachers create Lesson Plans to celebrate the Earth with their students, for each week running up to Earth Day.  The first week of this Series begins today, January 4th, 2010, and will culminate on April 19th, the week of Earth Day!  I hope that it can provide some useful and inspiring ideas!  Each Blog will have a Green Acton of the week as well as songs and stories.

I will be incorporating the principles of the The Little Earth Charter, (which I co-created with JC Little), into each post.  The Little Earth Charter is a fun and effective resource that provides a foundation, or springboard, for education on sustainability; it will tie this Series together nicely.  The DVD of the Little Earth Charter is available for purchase on the website and the educational outlines for each principle (in eight languages) are also posted there. 

Life!  There is so much to do everyday and our lives are full and busy, so in the hustle and bustle of it all we can sometimes forget that life is a precious gift sustained by the Earth!  When the first astronauts looked back at our tiny blue planet they were in awe; and still now, when we see those images of the Earth from space it is a breathtaking reminder of the fragility and uniqueness of this special place. 

This is our home and it‘s an incredible one!  Lets show every child what an amazing place this is and foster in them the kind of Earth Stewardship that lasts a lifetime!   Perhaps in a few hundred years humans will look back and call this the time of the Great Turning .

I am going to begin this series with the smallest of creatures.   I think it’s kind of ironic that the large animals tend to become the poster critters for the environment, when in fact it is the tiny, and the microscopic organisms that form the foundation upon which all life is built.  We don’t often see posters asking us to save worms, ants, bacteria or fungi and yet the truth is that without them, dead organic matter would pile up high on the earth’s surface and there wouldn’t be much of anything to eat.

Lesson Plans:
1.  Watch the Little Earth Charter Principle: One is Life!
The Principle of Life, means respecting and caring for all living things, no matter how big or how small.  All life is important, not just human life, so let’s treat all living things with respect and consideration.  Invite kids to take the Pledge for Life.
2.  Microorganisms rule the world!  This Activity from NASA demonstrates how millions of microorganisms live in a handful of soil, and how these tiny species eat organic matter such as grass clippings, fallen plant leaves etc. and in doing so reduce dead organic matter on Earth’s surface and release nutrients from the decomposing matter for living plants to use.  
3. Food Energy Webs! Demonstrate how we are all dependent on the sun, the soil, the air and water by creating food webs.  Make a list of everyday food items such as apples, cheese, bread and eggs; invite the children to draw food energy webs for them so they see the connections clearly.
4.  Seeds: From a tiny seed can spring a mighty tall tree!  Most plants come from seeds and seeds come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.  Some are small, like radishes or large like sunflowers.  Seeds remain dormant until they receive the magic ingredients of water, soil and light!   Sprout some peas; buy some whole green peas (not split peas); rinse them and soak overnight in a wide mouthed jar. Rinse and drain the peas, return to the jar keep in a cool location away from sunlight, rinsing every 8 to 12 hours for 2-3 days until the sprouts reach the length you want. Then eat them!
5.  Wiggly Worms: bring some worms into class and let the kids observe them. Ask questions - do they have eyes? How do we know which is their head or tail? How do they move?  Why don’t they suffocate under the soil? (Worms are usually available at a Fishing store)  A good way for children to understand how worms break down matter is by having a Vermicomposter in your classroom.  Not only will you be able to compost your class food scraps, but also you will have lots of nutritious soil for your plants!   Here is a Video on making a Worm Farm .
6.  Earth Day Journal: Help the children to create Journals in which to record all the things they do related to nature and the environment, during the next 16 weeks, and beyond!  These journals can be simple, or more fancy!  Here is a Video on How to Make A Recycled Journal.

Interconnections: Everything that lives on Earth is connected through the air, the water and the soil and nothing can live without the sun.  I have uploaded the song This is Me to MySpace.  The lyrics illustrate how each person is composed of these elements in addition to being an unfolding story of their own.

Songs:  Dolphin Teach us To Play is one of my favorite songs, and it celebrates the joy of being alive! I have also included the Ant Song, to celebrate one of the tiniest creatures. You can listen to it them on MySpace.
Stories:  I have chosen two stories: Apple-Seed John and The Ant and the Dove

Wherever you are, if you can take kids outdoors to play each day and introduce them to the wildlife in your neighborhood, that is the greatest gift to them.  Obviously it depends where you are located, what the temperature is and so many other factors, but here are a couple of websites that might be helpful:

Green Action!  Focus on water: Conserving water is something we can all do! By saving water we help to do all the following: 8 Tips on Conserving Water ! So this week’s Green Action is to make an effort to use less water.   At the end of the week ask children to list all the ways in which they saved water.

Have fun celebrating Life!
In gratitude to the Earth.

The Picture for Life created by JC Little:
Photo of Earth fron NASA