Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earth Day 2014

Someone asked me how I celebrated Earth Day this year. I try to think of every day as being a day to care for and celebrate the earth. Teaching this to young children is easier than you might think. It all begins with relationships.

Good teaching, in any setting, stems from a foundation of solid relationships. As teachers we must connect with our students. Know them. Consider their needs in the moment. Find something special about them and acknowledge it. I'm not talking about curriculum and standards and test scores as a measure of good teaching or what is best for all children. I'm talking about something much more personal and in my opinion much more important. To me, good teaching always begins with an environment where kids feel safe, relaxed, and valued for who they are. Honoring children in a classroom, in the outdoors, on the playground, in your back yard, wherever you might be, begins with the teacher's relationships with students and their relationships with each other.

So on Earth Day this year I was teaching a preschool class at a local nature center. This is my dream job. It allows me to combine my love for teaching with my love of the natural world. I get to help young children develop their own relationships with the natural world at a crucial time in their development. I get to be with them as they experience the wonder and joy of poking around in the mud or climbing logs or looking at animal tracks. I get to sit next to them on the ground, look up into the trees, find the cardinal singing his little heart out, and marvel at the beauty all around.

These kinds of experiences can happen most anywhere. The nature center where I work is nestled in a residential neighborhood, not far from highways and big-box stores. While it feels like we are hundreds of miles from "the city," the sounds of airplanes and car traffic tell us otherwise. Nature is everywhere.

Last week I had lunch with teachers who had come to a learning conference at our preschool. One was lamenting the fact that her urban kids are afraid to be outside. She asked how to help them not be afraid of bugs and dirt and things they aren't familiar with. My best advice to her, to anyone who finds herself in nature with children, is to be present with them. Sit on the ground. Be level with them. Be close. Try to experience those things right along with them. Try to be that calm and nurturing presence. Children know when you are uneasy. They also know when you are excited, when you are happy to share your time with them, when you enjoy being in the natural world with them. Your enthusiasm will help to ease their fears and just might spark their own sense of wonder.

I spent my Earth Day this year with children, digging in last year's garden beds, holding worms, finding animal tracks and comparing them to our own, lying down in the leaves and looking up at puffy clouds, feeling the warm sunshine on my face and watching children do the same. I stepped in the mud, I caught children as they jumped from boulders and logs, I watched ants, built stick forts, laughed, and gave thanks to the earth for being the best classroom there is. And when I got home, I did a load of laundry.