Climate change... water pollution... water scarcity... water rights... waste disposal... air quality... food production... population issues... renewable energy... when you lean towards green, these and more are topics you'd like to get your kids thinking about and acting on. That much is clear to me. Where it's murkier is in trying to figure out how to go about greening up the boys.
"Get 'em while they're young" seems to be the order of the day. Since my guys are still in their elementary years, I gravitate towards those enviro-resources for the K-5 set. You name it, and someone somewhere seems to have put out a lesson plan for that topic onto the Internet. Initially, I got excited over my finds, and enthusiastically threw a bookmark at the URLs.
But, with an ever-growing bookmark list, why wasn't I returning to the items in it? This past summer, while on the website of an organization which had proudly just released an educational guide for children, my mouse hovered over "bookmark this page"... but I didn't left-click. I realized that the guide made me feel like the sky was falling. Well, the sky I see over my children may be in danger, but for all of the risks it faces, it also hosts gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, twinkly stars, soaring birds, gentle rains, and today, snow. Not to mention, some of the topics were pretty abstract and distant for two kids firmly in the here and now.
In mid-Fall, while working out how we were going to approach local geography and history with our 4th grader, my "light bus reading" included David Sobel's Mapmaking with Children: Sense of Place Education for the Elementary Years. My eyes snapped to this paragraph, which I re-read, and then re-read again:
"Ecophobia emerges in children when media, educators, and parents put too early an emphasis on ecological problems. By laying the responsibility for saving the rain forests and protecting endangered species on seven- and eight-year-olds, we alienate rather than connect children with the natural world. Children need to learn the beauty and intricacies of the natural world before they can save it."Bingo! That was validating music to my ears! Out with the lesson plans, and in with the nature walks, volunteering at our CSA, and spending hours in the yard, exploring every corner - the path we'd already been pursuing. I rummaged in my pockets to find a scrap of paper to use as a bookmark. (In greenest form, I was reading a library copy, of course, so use of a highlighter was out.)
The rest of the book is equally as inspiring to me as this excerpt. Far from a lesson plan "cookbook", it takes you on a developmentally-appropriate, multi-disciplinary journey through the community around you. Sobel starts with kindergartners and first-graders, and then works his way up to explorations and discoveries with fifth- and sixth-graders. In the process, the children come away with stories and experiences which they can then readily apply. For example, one anecdote relayed how students used a raisin to represent Earth, and then mapped out the solar system - to that scale - in their neighborhood. When a news report about a meteor came out a short while later, the students had a meaningful frame of reference that let them quickly figure out that that even though it had been many miles away, that meteor had actually come pretty darn close to Earth.
Next on our 4th grade docket was a month of learning about animals. Rochelle Strauss' Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth came recommended, our library had it on the shelf, and you know what book next traveled on the bus with me. :-). More reading, and words singing to my ears:
Each part of the Tree of Life is important. A problem with one branch, one twig, place or even just one leaf may affect the whole tree. Perhaps by climbing the Tree of Life and exploring its branches, we will come to better understand our within the Tree of Life and our impact on it... We need to foster a biodiversity ethic that recognizes the diversity and interconnection of all species and the role every species plays within the Tree of Life. This biodiversity ethic will help children understand their place within the Tree, as one of its many leaves.Whereas Sobel's book is written for grown-ups, Strauss' beautifully illustrated book is for the kids themselves. In it, she celebrates all sorts of nifty facts about a variety of plants and critters of all sizes, creating fertile ground in her young readers for learning lots more.
About those lesson plans I have bookmarked... we have time before calling them into service. Given the nature of the web, a number of the links will be broken when I finally get back to them. When that happens, it will be ok. I trust that examining worms, figuring out where our storm drain goes, delighting in fireflies, and marveling over the beauty of okra flowers will be a great foundation for helping the boys engage in keeping these experiences available for the generation behind them.