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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One Week Left to Earth Day! Week 16: Earth Stewardship

So here I am, at week 16 in this series of posts that began in January; the goal was to provide a collection of ideas that might be useful to a teacher or parent in the run up to Earth Day.  Truth is that I think every day should be Earth Day, I mean let’s face it without the Earth we don’t exist!  However, I am grateful that we do have at least one day dedicated to the Earth, and I do believe we are changing and becoming more aware of Earth’s importance to our survival and wellbeing!

It seemed fitting that the last post in this sequence should be about Earth Stewardship.  What makes someone a good steward of the earth?  I return to Baba Dioum’s famous quote: “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.” 

“We will love only what we understand....only what we are taught.”  It is vital that we share with children the beauty of Earth; that we make the time to take them outside to experience first hand this incredible place where we live.  Educate them about the importance of preserving and protecting ecosystems, and convey to them that it is our individual responsibility to be good stewards.   According to Google Trends, environmental education has steadily declined since 2004 to the present day.  With all the “green” hoopla, you’d think that maybe, just maybe, it would have increased!  It is a reminder to us all to not be complacent or assume that it is not our responsibility.  Each voice is crucial and relevant.

I’m currently in studio recording a new CD, called I “Saw Butterflies Kissing Today”!  With a focus on backyard critters, I aim to use this body of work to inspire parents and grandparents to get their kids out exploring the backyard again!  After all, the whole wide world is really our backyard!   Encouraging kids to be outdoors, to explore and discover nature plants the seed that can blossom into love.
Lesson Plans
1. Awe and discovery!  To ignite passion for the Earth, help kids to discover it!  Begin with the backyard, or if you don’t have one, go to the nearest park.  Take magnifying glasses, jars and tweezers and go on a Nature Treasure Hunt!  Collect things - leaves, worms, insects, bits of bark, rocks, flowers, anything that looks interesting!  Bring your findings back to the classroom and share what you’ve found.  Make leaf and bark rubbings; look at patterns; make paintings using the natural pigments of leaves and berries.  Nature Mom’s Blog has some fun ideas for Natural Play for Teaching Science!  
2.  Plant a garden!  Even if you don’t have much space you can create a small area of pots and tubs for plants.  Here's an Easy Way way to get you going!  Planting a garden is one of the greatest science lessons kids can have!  You can make it as simple or as complex as you want!  Kids Garden Club has some good ideas to help you and here are some Lesson Plans built around plants.

3.  Explore some of the incredible aspects of nature, such as Patterns captured in these National Geographic photos.  Take students outside and invite them to draw what they see; sitting quietly in a natural setting is a great way to get kids connected to the natural world.  If you have a hard time justifying including such an activity in nature, then discover how the Fibonacci Numbers work in nature!  Here is a beautiful film you could share with your older students called Nature by Numbers!  This website, called Patterns in Nature has some cool ideas too! 
4.  Plan a trip to a park, river, beach, swamp – some natural setting.  Fund-raise if you have to.  Prepare for this trip with your students; learn about the flora and fauna that live in the place you are going to visit.  Create journals to take with you and make sure that all the food you are taking is packed in re-usable containers so that you leave no trash behind.  Invite students to write a story about the trip and when you are actually at the location, ensure that time is set aside for quiet reflection.  Students should each spend time sitting by themselves, with just their journals. 

Kids need to know that our lives are integrally connected to the health and well being of this planet.  If we live in a city, this is not always obvious and therefore it is incumbent upon those of us who are parents, grandparents, teachers or mentors to impart this wisdom to young people.  It is as simple as that; we will not be healthy unless the planet is healthy.  Show them how Global Ocean Currents connect us; how we all breathe the same AIR – even if pollution is far away, it soon reaches us.  The recent eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano demonstrates how interconnected we all are!  
When I was out on tour across Canada and the US, children would often sing Friends of the Earth to me, especially on Earth Day!  In celebration of neighborhood critters you could sing Rocky Raquino (about a raccoon) or the Chickadee Blues, or Butterflies Kissing!  All of these songs can be found on my MySpace page.
One of my favorites! The Rainbow Child
Green Action of the Week!
Make a pledge!  Invite each child to pledge to do at least one thing toward becoming a true steward for the Earth.  There are plenty of things to choose from - to always recycle, to walk or bike instead of going by car when traveling short distances, to plant a tree or some native plants, to turn off lights and appliances, to educate others about why it is important to do these things, to raise money to protect a local habitat, to seek out products that are locally made or produced and much more!  Each one of us that commits IS making a difference.

As I mentioned earlier, I am recording my new CD.  If you like my songs and would like to show your support, please visit my Kickstarter page; a $10 pledge will give you a free download of the CD!  I am really thrilled with the collection of songs and think they are some of the best I have written.

Have a WONDERFUL week, and Earth Day!  I shall be thinking of everyone around the world celebrating!
In gratitude for life and this precious Earth!
Photos by Tessa Emery

Monday, April 12, 2010

2 Weeks left to Earth Day: Week 15: Green Spring Clean

There’s no denying, spring is definitely in the air!  One of the things I dislike about being in Florida is that the seasons are not as evident there, though there are subtle indicators if you are keenly aware.  But here in Montreal, the first rush of warmth brings every living thing to life, bursting forth from the earth and from homes with an urgency borne of lengthy dormancy.

I remember my mother beginning her spring-cleaning saga; she would wash all the curtains, sheets and covers, hanging them out to billow in the wind like colorful flags heralding the incoming season with joyful zest.  In Morocco the women would drag all the rugs up onto the rooftops to be beaten thoroughly until every dust mote had departed on the wind; floors would be washed and spring and summer clothes retrieved from chests to be laid out in lively piles for the sun to extract every hint of mildew. 

As far as I can remember my mother used mostly vinegar, baking soda and borax in her cleaning extravaganzas; I do remember Vim, a kind of corrosive cleaner she employed for stubborn stains.  In Morocco the standard cleaner was bleach, which while not ideal, seems mild compared to the plethora of products lining today’s supermarket shelves!
Fabric softeners, household cleaning products, shampoos and anti-bacterials are having some disturbing effects on the environment with serious consequences not only for wetland and ocean biodiversity, but threatening human wellbeing too. Studies continue to demonstrate the negative impacts resulting from the use of such products and we would be prudent to pay attention and change our household cleaning strategies.  As I always say, we’re all interconnected and this Earth is like an insulated space ship whose precious living systems are slowly deteriorating to the point of no return.  If we are to survive as a species, we must listen to the canary that is no longer singing, and the butterflies, the bees, the frogs and the fish that are quite simply just dying off.

So, lets educate kids about the effects of household products and inspire them to take action, to teach their parents and families how to make good, ecologically friendly cleaning products that will cost less and ultimately make everyone feel better!

Lesson Plans
 1.  Where does our water go?  Many children (and adults for that matter), don’t really understand the flow of water once it leaves our homes.  This Water Science for Schools webpage has some of the answers. 
2.  Teach children what is meant by “Nonpoint-source pollution”.  This means that the solution cannot be traced back to a single origin or source such as stormwater runoff, water runoff from urban areas and failed septic systems.  Here is a Lesson Plan for Grades 4-8, called Down by the River and here is another Website that could be helpful.  
3.  May,  is Wetlands month is the USA and the EPA  has some suggestions for learning about wetlands near you.  Explore the nearest wetlands with your students and learn how they impact your lives.  Remember that wetlands play many different Roles – share some of  these with your students.  Who Polluted the River is another Lesson Plan you can use.
4.  What can you do?  Here are some of the Do's and Don'ts around the home!  Demonstrate to students how easy it is to make eco-friendly cleaning products with simple ingredients found in most homes. 
Here are a list of some that will get your started:

Well, the interconnections are becoming more and more obvious, as Studies  continue to demonstrate.  
What goes into the ground, seeps into the water tables and subsequently affects all life.
Green Action of the Week!
 Invite kids to show their parents how to make one “eco-friendly” cleaning product!  If everyone began to do this, the waterways of the world would soon be clean again.  Show them how Dr. John Todd's  Green Eco-Machine uses plants and natural systems to clean water!

Story Earth Day Story   What Can I Do?

We're almost to Earth Day!  I hope spring has sprung in your neck of the woods, (that is if spring is in your hemisphere!) I am beginning a new CD tomorrow, if you would like to be a part of this project I'd be grateful for your help - visit the Kickstarter page to find out how!
Have a great week!
In gratitude for life, and this magical Earth!

Photo of the house on the St. Lawrence River, by Philipp Hienstorfer

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

3 Weeks Left To Earth Day! Week 14: Migration

I’m back in Montreal, after driving up from Florida over a period of four days; even with a one-day stop it seems to knock the wind from my sails!  All the more reason to marvel at all those creatures that migrate long distances every year!

Just before leaving Florida I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings passing through the back yard on their way north, and a couple of hummingbirds that I hadn’t seen before, were hanging out in the old oak tree, pausing on their northward journey.  In Virginia, my friend Ingrid awaits the arrival of the hummingbirds   and tells me that each year, they almost always arrive on the same date – April 23rd!  Awesome!  Last week I read about an Osprey that travelled 10,000 miles to come back to the place where he has started a family before! 
Then there’s the annual roundtrip of the Arctic Tern, which is approximately 71,000 km  (44,117 miles) not to mention the Monarch Butterfly, whose epic journey south from Canada and the northern United States, to Mexico is one of the wonders of nature!  Given all these incredible voyages, my little jaunt up from Florida, in a car, pales slightly!  

As I was driving, I began to wonder how warming temperatures and climatic changes are affecting many of these species.  Migratory species use up tremendous amounts of energy on their long flights, swims or walks!  Pregnant Caribou cows, for example, travel an average of 20 km per day and are totally reliant on the early spring forage, which is obviously dependent upon snow melting.  Many migratory birds rely on berries when they are traveling, while in their settled habitats, they might feed mainly on insects.  (A recent Science Article reminds us that we could learn a lot about healthy eating from birds' feeding habits!)  Colder winters, warmer springs and summers impact wildlife and vegetation in different ways, but there is no doubt that all of life is being affected by these global changes.

Lesson Plans
1.  Follow the journey of an Arctic Tern, discover the places they visit on their marathon journey!  Here is a National Geographic Lesson Plan for K-2.
2.  Caribou are always on the move; learn about these northern ruminants and some of the challenges that they face on these journeys.  They can actually smell the lichens that are buried under the snow!  Look at some of the Energy Demands and how they have adapted to live in cold climates.  Here is another National Geographic Lesson Plan for K-2.
3.  Several Whale Species species make long migrations from southern to northern waters.  They typically travel to warmer waters to give birth and to cooler waters for feeding; learn about the different species and the geographic locations they travel through.
4.  What about Human migrations?  Around the world people are constantly on the move and have always been to some degree.  Here is a Lesson Plan for Gr. 3-5 about the story of Human Migration.
5.  What migratory species pass through your neighborhood?  Find pictures of some of these birds or butterflies and post them by the window inviting children to be on the lookout.  Create a chart with some of the pictures so that you can post the dates on which they are observed.

We are all intricately connected to species that migrate.  How so?  Because our lifestyles, our communities and the way we farm and grow our gardens affects the food resources available to many migrant species.  The Monarch butterfly, for example, feeds on milkweed, a plant that used to grow prolifically in hedgerows and fields.  With the advent of large farming operations and landscaped gardens, the availability of milkweed plants to nourish the traveling Monarchs, has been diminished.  Birds feeding on berries and fruits help to disperse the seeds of those plants to new areas, in fact it is believed that many of the plant species in Florida grew from seeds dropped by migratory birds!  
Green Action of the Week!
Plant a Monarch Butterfly Garden; plant flowers, bushes and trees that will provide nourishment for migratory species passing through your backyards.  Make colorful markers to put beside the plants so that the children learn which plants are important to which species.  
Mighty Monarch of the Ocean is a song about whales and since they are one of the migratory species, it should fit in well!
It is only recently that we have been able to track migrating species; long ago people knew that birds departed at a certain time of the year, but did not know where they went to.  However, it has long been believed that birds navigate their journeys by the stars and the Milky Way is one constellation that figures in folktales associated with bird migrations.  The Legend of the Milky Way is one such story that originated in China.  
Thats it for this week!  I am off to record a new CD next weekend, in Winnipeg, but I shall try to get my Blog Post up on Sunday!  We are almost at Earth Day, so I hope this series has been helpful!
Have a great week!
In gratitude for life and this beautiful Earth!

Photo of Cedar Waxwing by Ken
Photo of Arctic tern by Toivo Toivanen & Tina Toppila

Photo of Caribou by Dean Biggins US Fish & Wildlife Service