Sunday, February 21, 2010

9 Weeks left to Earth Day: Week 8: The FUTURE!

I have mixed feelings when I think about the future.  The optimistic me, holds on to a vision of a kinder world, one in which humans excel in creating sustainable solutions to energy use, agriculture, manufacturing and land use.  But the realist me, while seeking to find the good in each person, must acknowledge that human traits such as avarice, selfishness, bigotry and meanness exist and thrive in a culture of entitlement, which in some ways is what we seem to have right now. 

Thankfully, there is no question that human kindness and compassion also exist and there are gazillions of examples if one cares to look!  I think that the Earth itself will be the fulcrum upon which we will come to our senses; and the necessity of overcoming challenges wrought by climate change will force the cooperation of nations.  And since I happen to believe that we become and embody that which we envision, I personally choose to focus my imagination on a bright vision of the future! 

The key is to find ways in which to empower young people about the future, to get them excited and engaged in it!  We are creating the future every minute of every day and so each time we choose to make a conscious effort to protect and preserve the planet in any way, we are giving a gift to those who come after us.  The Indigenous People of the World have always talked about the next seven generations, that it was the responsibility of each person to always consider them in each action taken.  So lets teach our youth this, gift them with the understanding of that sacred trust so that children in the future will inherit a healthy and beautiful world.
Lesson Plans:
1.  The Little Earth Charter Principle No 8 is the Future.  Invite young children to draw or paint their image of the future.  Imagine the future as a treasure that we will share with those who come after us.  How do the kids imagine the Earth in 100 years?   

2.  With older students, explore some of the exciting innovations of the future such as the concept of Upcycling – a phrase coined by Cradle to Cradle authors  William McDonough and Michael Braungartis - which is the act of creating useful products from waste materials.  Here are some examples of Creative Upcycling Projects  Here’s a Company that pays you to recycle your waste! Terracycle!

3.  Make a class list of things that you can do to try to make sure the Earth is preserved for the next seven generations.  Invite each child to commit to at least one action they can realistically carry out. Create a "Time Capsule" and fill it with messages from the kids about what they have done to preserve the planet and make the world a better place.  Create a ceremony and together, bury the capsule somewhere it will be found in the future! 

4.  Imagine cities of the future, what do students think they might be like?  Architects Ken Yeang and Ross Lovegrove share their vision in this Video.  What kinds of innovations can the kids imagine for future cities.  Create a poster of a future city, make it large and beautiful so that everyone can see it! !  Look at some ideas for sustainable cities check out what San Francisco is doing and Chicago

5.  Introduce children to Environmental and Conservation Success Stories to illustrate how we can make a difference and help to turn things around.   The Nature Conservancy  has some inspiring stories, and they also have an innovative program called Plant a Billion Trees . 

6.  Introduce the practice of seafood conservation through Sustainable Seafood Choices and the Sustainable Seafood Guide   Being informed and educated allows us to make choices that are not so harmful to ecosystems.  Introduce kids to the concept of Paying it Forward.  If you can, rent the movie Pay It Forward, to share with the kids.  

Everything we do today impacts the future.  You can choose any ecological or human story to illustrate this.  From deforestation to reforestation, pollution to clean up, war to peace, destroying cultures or helping to preserve them – every action we take, each and every moment is impacting the future in some way.  Ask students to reflect on this silently and then to write down, or tell, one way to illustrate it.  

When I began a cross-Canada school music tour called the Rainbow Road, in 1997.  I had only one thought in my mind - to do everything I could to inspire kids to care for the Earth and to let them know that together, we can turn things around.  The song that I wrote for that tour is the Rainbow Road Song, and that is the song for this post.

Story:  I had a difficult time finding the right story for this post; I am not at home, so my library of books is not readily available!  But as I was searching, I came across this short film Make A Difference
It is a simple story, but profound, since we are all given opportunities in which to make a difference in someone’s life and while it is not always possible to know the impact of that small kindness or gesture of compassion, it is surely enough to know that we are always trying.
The Film, “For the Next Seven Generations” tells the story of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers from all around the world, who come together to help people create a new way of life that will be in balance before it is too late.

So here's to the future, to doing all that we can to ensure that those coming after us will be able to witness the beauty that we have; that the wonders of this world, the animals, the ecosystems and the people will be there for them to experience too.  I believe in a future that is achievable; I believe we can learn from our mistakes and our triumphs, that we can evolve to become more altruistic and conscious.  Will it be everyone?  I doubt it; that's just the way it is, but if there are enough of us that become aware of our ability to participate in the co-creation of a more harmonious world for all sentient beings, then I do believe we will reach a tipping-point, and it is that belief that keeps me going!  Have a great week!
In gratitude, for life and this beautiful Earth!

Other Resources
Earth Charter Youth Groups Wiki Page:

Animation by JC Little –

Sunday, February 14, 2010

10 Weeks left to Earth Day: Week 7: LOVE!

How appropriate that this week’s post should fall on Valentines Day, and since I am following the Principles of the Little Earth Charter, Principle No. 7 is Love!  Beautiful!

Everyone has an opinion about love; a story, a poem, a song or a sigh.  I personally think that the word love has been cheapened, that it’s tossed about so frequently in today’s world that the depth of its meaning is diminished, but that is just the way I see it;.(As I said everyone has an opinion!)   Since these Blog posts are related to Earth Day, I thought it appropriate to share this poem from Wendell Berry
A Homecoming
One faith is bondage.  Two are free.  In the trust
Of old love, cultivation shows a dark and graceful wilderness
At its heart.  Wild
In that wilderness, we roam
The distance of our faith;
Safe beyond the bounds
Of what we know.  O love,
Open.  Show me
My country.  Take me home

So, for this day, which has become the poster day for the word love, I am going to reflect on how love is related to this Earth. 
When I participated in the  Council of All Beings workshop in 1989, the purpose of the experience was intended to help each of us hear the sound of the Earth crying.  The exercises, songs and poems were crafted together so as to awaken that remembering in the depth of our beingsthe recognition of our integral interconnection to this living planet that birthed us.  If our mother were hurting, would we not cry?

Most of the Indigenous peoples of the world believe that the Earth is their mother or father; they have a sacred relationship to this planet, which guides all aspects of their lives.  Children grow up knowing that they must respect the Earth as they respect their parents.
The Kogi people who live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Columbia call themselves the Elder Brothers and refer to the rest of the people in the world as Younger Brothers.  They were one of the only groups of indigenous people in the world, who because of the particular nature of their surrounding, were able to keep themselves apart and sustain their culture.  In 1988, they were so concerned about the state of the Mother (Earth) that they sought out a BBC journalist to tell these concerns to the world, endangering their isolation which has since led to terrible consequences for them all.  Sadly they are no longer isolated.  Video: The Kogi - Journey to the Hearth of the World

Lesson Plans
1.  The Little Earth Charter Principle No. 6 is Love!!  Acts of Kindness are a great way to show Love!  An act of kindness doesn’t have to cost any money, you can give a smile, make a card, sing a song, give good wishes, or just listen to someone who needs to talk.  Make a list with younger children of all the good things you can do!  The Random Acts of Kindness organization has some good ideas.  
2.  Invite students to learn about some of the people who have loved this planet so much that in many cases they dedicated their life to protecting it.  Examples St. Francis of Assisi , John MuirJane Goodall or Wangari Maathai (Green Belt Movement)  What was it that inspired these people?  Look for others who have been so inspired, there are plenty out there, maybe even some in your own community!
3.  What is love for the Earth? How do your students perceive it?  Ask them to draw, paint, write or make a video of their interpretations of love for the Earth.
 4. Share with older students the literary work of some great writers who have been and continue to be inspired by their love of this Earth.  There is poetry by Mary Oliver – (I love Wild Geese)  or books like Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by environmental activist, writer and poet, Janisse Ray and the wonderful Alison Hawthorne Deming  Here is an amazing interactive book: Thoreau's Legacy: American Stories on Global Warming
5.  Watch the Film – The Man Who Planted Trees

Interconnections:  Love for this world can translate into incredible actions such as the Green Belt Movement  started by Wangari Maathai or Roots & Shoots started by Jane Goodall. Actions that come out of love can last for a long, long time and benefit a lot of people.

Green Action of the Week! 
What are your actions of love for the planet?  They might be as simple as pledging to do one thing a day, or to join a group like Roots and Shoots.  Perhaps there is one in your neighborhood?  Here is a LIST of organizations that’s were started by Kids to help others.  We are all part of this Earth and each person, being, corner of this planet, we help, is helping a part of ourselves..

StoryThe Giving Tree by Shell Silverstein  
Song:  Bruce Cockburn: If A Tree Falls in the Forest Does Anyone Hear It? Lyrics and Video  I would also like to offer my love song to the Earth - Dream of the Earth!

We are living in a Finite World, and we must face the fact that we are fast using up the natural resources of this planet.  Here is a very thoughtful article by the founder of the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation, Bob Williamson. Consumption in a Finite World: How can we sustain a Future that isn't Finite? 

Valentines Day is special to me because my father passed away on that day in 2002.  My father gave me so many gifts and to be with him during this important passage was truly a gift of love, for it helped me to understand my own mortality and the eternal nature of my being!  And finally, a valentine message to my son and daughter - I love you D & D!

Happy Valentines to you all!
In gratitude for this Earth and life!
Animation by JC Little

Sunday, February 7, 2010

11 Weeks to Earth Day: Week 6: Peace!

“If you with to experience peace, provide peace for another.” Tenzin Gyatso 14th Dalai Lama

Peace!  We all want peace, don’t we?  We want it in our lives, in our country, in the world.  I have always thought that peace is very relative; it’s easy to want peace, to preach peace when no one is infringing upon our reality.  It is a lot harder to espouse peace when someone is breaking down your door, invading your home, your country or attacking your children.  It’s rather like “enlightenment”; it’s easy to feel enlightened when sitting atop a beautiful mountain, but when home for the holidays with family, or confronted by an angry motorist in traffic, enlightenment seems to quickly vanish.  However, that should not deter us from seeking to nurture peace attributes in our children!

What does peace have to do with the Earth?  A lot!  One of the aspects that first drew me towards the  Earth Charter was the fact that it underscored the importance of reducing poverty and war since those two aspects alone result in so much misery and environmental destruction. Impoverished societies are often not sustainable simply because people are struggling to survive by any means available.  The ecological footprint of developing nations, however, is not likely to be the size of developed ones, quite the contrary in fact!  The Earth Charter seeks to provide a framework from which all societies can aspire to become more sustainable through the eradication of poverty and war.

Lesson Plans
1.  The Little Earth Charter Principle No. 6 is Peace. Do the children know anyone who is lonely, angry or upset?  These feelings can make someone feel separate from the rest of the group.  Sometimes giving someone a card can bridge the distance between themselves and others.  Invite the children to make a Peace card for someone they would like to reach out to.

2.  Creating empathy both for humans and non-humans.  Depending on the age of your children/students create a lesson in learning empathy.  With younger children, tell them that you have discovered a new plant, called a “Feeling Plant”, which demonstrates different feelings.  Invite the children to draw what they imagine a Feeling Plant would look like and then share the drawings with everyone. 
Ask students to explain what emotions their plant expresses and how it does that.  For example, do the leaves of their plant droop when they’re sad, or do they flap when excited?  Does it use its roots to express feelings?  If so, which ones?  Do its flowers change colors when it feels certain emotions, or does it bloom, or wilt?  Finally, ask the children whether they think plants really have feelings or not and challenge them to support their answers with reasons.  (From the Giraffe Classroom by Nancy Sokol Green

3.  With older students, expand the previous discussion to look at whether, in fact, the community of life as a whole emits feelings!  If this sounds too absurd, read this article, Is There An Ecological Unconscious? - by Daniel B. Smith about scholar Glenn Albrecht who coined the term Solastalgia which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault...a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home’.” What do your students think about this?  Have they ever had an experience of feeling distraught over an environmental destruction?
By introducing these conversations to young people, we might broaden their field of compassion. 
As Einstein said so eloquently: "A human being is a part of a whole, called by us _universe_, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

4.  Volunteering locally and globally.  Learning to volunteer in the community can be both fun and rewarding and it fosters a sense of responsibility to others in children.  Ask students if they are volunteering anywhere?  What has been their experience?  Invite them to write an essay about it.  Is there something that they could do to help kids in another country? PBS Kids has some good tips on volunteering.

5.  What is a vision of peace?  What does a sustainable world look like?  Invite students to create drawings, paintings, even a mural of their vision of peace and of a sustainable world.  Everything begins with imagination!  Challenge them to write poems or short stories about peace and sustainability.   The  Seeds of Peace Summer camp brings together children from different regions of conflict, to help empower them to resolve conflict.  If peace begins with each one of us, what are some ideas the children can suggest to engender peacefulness in their own lives?

Ultimately we are all affected by conflicts, because war creates poverty and misery for the people of a country, and impoverished people are hard pressed to think about anything except where their next meal is coming from.  Haiti is one example of a country where the environment has suffered because of internal conflict and corruption.  Locked in a vicious cycle of environmental disaster, hunger, poverty and reliance on international aid, it's perhaps the most extreme example of what is happening to many of the world's poorest countries. 

Song: Imagine, John Lennon  LYRICS to Imagine  YouTube Video of Imagine
Story: One of my favorite stories: The Monk and the Samurai  and A Tale for All Seasons

Green Action of the Week!  Have a clothing drive – collect clothes, shoes, toys, old computers, anything that might be useful for people in need.  Donate them either to Goodwill, or an organization that is accepting such items for places like Haiti.  Giving away used items helps to keep them from the landfill and provide others with items that are useful to them.

Have a great week finding Peace!
In gratitude to the Earth, for life!

 Zoomlab– Creating Virtual Playspaces while connecting with other Cultures 

Animation by JC Little of

Photo: By Edward Emery