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earth day in schools

Children Earth Whisperers 

Change is difficult. It’s difficult for individual human beings. It’s even more difficult for a whole society. We are emerging – slowly – out of an era dominated by a mechanistic, cut-and-control world view. Those of us 40 and older have been deeply trained and indoctrinated into this way of thinking. Despite our best intentions we tend to look at the world as individual parts, functioning in isolation.

As we begin to reckon with human’s tenure on this Earth and its impact on every nook and cranny of this planet, we need to look to those open to learn new ways of living on Earth. I’m of course talking about the children. Whitney Houston said it best: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” That means we need to start training them in what I consider some key ways of thinking.

Children are our future Earth Whisperers. They won’t find the idea that the Earth is self-aware strange. They won’t have any problems talking to plants and animals and realizing they can talk back. They won’t have built up the decades of body armor that keeps so many adults rigid, closed and cynical. And most important of all, they will still have access to their innate innocence. Innocence is the state of being of the Earth and thus is the key and doorway to Earth Whispering.

If we can show children the beauty and magic of truly connecting to the Earth and learning to respect her as the magnificent being she is, they will begin the process of designing human civilization from a very different perspective.

To guide children onto the path of Earth Whispering and help nurture their innate abilities, a few key understandings can start laying the foundation. Here is a short list of some of these essential abilities and some suggested activities for Earth Day.

Think Like an Ecosystem

Whole-systems thinking is going to be one of the most essential abilities humanity must master in order to align with the Earth. Donella Meadows defines a system as “an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. […] you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.”

The Earth is a collection of highly complex, nested ecosystems, each with sets of elements (plants, animals, insects, water, air, nutrients, etc.), interconnections (leaves falling off trees becoming food for the forest floor organisms, whose waste become nutrients for the trees; berry seeds consumed by birds and dropped a distance away to support the bush’s procreation; etc.) and function (a balanced environment with the right mixture of oxygen and CO2; species that can support the thriving of the ecosystem and the Earth as a whole organism).

Earth Day Activity for Schools

Find and describe an ecosystem at your school, home or neighborhood. Invite the students to explore outside and find an ecosystem where they can identify the elements, interconnections and function of the system. Examples could include:

  • Lawns with dandelions
  • Bees on the flowers
  • A tree

Have them imagine what would happen if an element were removed from the system, like leaves from the tree. What would happen to the system? Invite them to draw the ecosystem showing the elements and their interconnections.

Talk to a Plant

A key ability of an Earth Whisperer is to talk to the Earth, plants and animals. Earth Day is a perfect opportunity to give student the freedom to explore this skill. Either purchase a set of mini succulents that the students can take home at the end of the day or let them find a plant outside.

The most important step is to teach them to quiet their brain for this exercise. It’s a “Quiet Inside.” practice. When it’s quieter inside their head they’ll be able to hear the plant better. Take them through these steps.

  1. Ground – feel your feet on the ground then imagine you have roots coming out of your feet like a tree. See these roots go deep into the Earth.
  2. Now that you have your roots planted in the Earth, feel its energy flowing into you. Like a tree that takes in water through its roots you are taking in the energy of Earth and it makes you feel happy, healthy and strong.
  3. Now focus on your plant. What do you see and feel? You can pretend this is your new best friend or pet that you love and want to get to know better.
  4. Ask your new friend a question, i.e, What is your name? What makes you happy? Do you like to play?
  5. Then sit quietly and listen for the answer. You have tobe quiet in your head too, because the answer may come as a whisper inside. The answer may appear to you as a picture in your mind, a thought or a word. Know that whatever you notice and receive is perfect.
  6. Write and draw about your plant and what story it had to tell you.

Wild Wisdom of Weeds

Weeds have a negative connotation in our world of manicured lawns. We try to eradicate these plants from our properties, yet they keep popping up everywhere.Taking the understanding of everything functioning as a system that tries to move into balance, it can give a whole new perspective to the question of “Why do these particular weeds keep coming up?” From a system’s perspective the question can be asked: “What role are these plants playing in this particular system?”

Teaching children to view weeds through a different lens has many benefits. Katrina Blair in her delightful book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds makes a powerful, sweetly reverent case for these ubiquitous members of the plant kingdom. Here is a short list of all the benefits weeds provide:

  • Many of them are edible, highly nutritious and packed with enzymes, vitamins, minerals and hydration
  • Many have medicinal qualities – an important survival knowledge – helping lubricate stiff joints, tone tissues and detoxify organs
  • They are abundant and require minimal input to grow
  • They provide important food sources to bees and other nectar-seeking insects
  • They have an intrinsic wisdom for resilience and have mastered their abilities of survival

Take this Earth Day to help children appreciate weeds as important members of their ecosystem.

Earth Day Activity  #2

Give the children a quick lesson on a few of the most common weeds. You can select a few from this list:

  • Dandelion
  • Purslane
  • Clover
  • Thistle
  • Mallow
  • Dock
  • Lambsquarters

Now have them go out and see if they can identify any of the weeds in their immediate surroundings. Have them pick a few of the leaves and flowers and bring them in for show and tell.

You could also bring in a broader conversation about herbs in general and the benefits they offer. A delightful game called Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game is a cooperative board game made by could support your lesson plan.

Earth Day is a day of re-connection to Earth. Humans have moved far away from our relationship with nature. In that process we have lost so much of the brilliance and wisdom this Earth has to offer. Reintroducing children back into a more intimate relationship with all the players of their ecosystem can offer a fun, eye-opening, curiosity-inducing lesson plan for a day dedicated to Earth.
Kirsten Liegmann

By Kirsten Liegmann