Earth Wonders: A curriculum developed by Margaret Gonzalez and Millisa Bell
Earth Wonders, a Young Naturalist Program, is curriculum designed to give children opportunities to discover sensory connection with nature, to explore concepts which underscore the interdependence of life forms, and to commit to lifestyle changes which respect the limited resources of the planet.
Some of the ideas which play a part in this curriculum derive from the work of the Earth Education Institute and the book Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. Many of the activities are predicated on the theory that the imagination, play, and joy are essential components of the learning process. They are all in harmony with Tilden’s sixth principle, that “interpretation addressed to children should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach.”
We hope that children who participate in this program will understand that they are both part of nature and responsible for nature as part of the web of life. We hope that they will feel part of the food chain and the water cycle. We hope they will have new understanding of the threat of habitat loss and of loss of biodiversity. Lastly, we ask them to live their commitment to the earth by adapting their lifestyles.
We have used this curriculum as a four-day vacation church school and as a ten-week church school course.
The curriculum is for elementary school age children.
For the four-day program, the church should select a natural environment where the children meet. This could be a park, a camp, a nature center, an eco-preserve, a wildlife refuge or a wildlife sanctuary. The site should have a field, a trail through woods, a pond, lake, or stream, and a shaded meeting area. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, where we have used this program, the adjacent Holton Eco-Preserve was the site.
The sessions will emphasize the 7th principle.
The sessions will promote a feeling of connection with nature and commitment to conserve resources.
Typical session in a vacation church school:
Opening circle –Singing of the Earth is our Mother –sharing how we have implemented last weeks commitment
Heightened use of our senses in exploring the field
3. Sharing what we have found
4. Exploring the trail – feeling at home in nature
5. Earth Drama or Earth Game
6. Commitment of the week and closing circle – singing of Kids for Saving Earth Promise song
Examples of Commitments
I will love the land
I will support my family in recycling cans, glass, boxes, and newspapers. _______________
I will sort my toys and clothes and contribute those I don’t use to a rummage sale, a thrift shop, or my family’s own garage sale. ________________
I will plant native plants instead of exotics in my yard._________
When I go to a natural setting, I will leave only my footprints and take only my memories._______________
For family excursions, I will vote for adventures in nature._______
I will show this to my parents.________
I will love the air
The next time my family buys a car, I will support them in getting a fuel-efficient vehicle._____________
When we ride in the car and someone has to run in the store for something, I will suggest we turn off the car, even if it is hot. We can get out of the car. It may be less convenient, but sitting in a running car is bad for the air.______________
When I am home and I feel cool, I will put on a sweater instead of turning the thermostat up.________________
I will remind my family to turn off air-conditioning when no one is at home.______________
I will be vigilant about turning off lights and appliances no one is using.________________
I will show this to my parents._____
I will love the water
I will check every week to be sure that no faucets in my house are dripping.______________
I will check the toilets for leaking by putting food coloring in the tank. I will check back after 30 minutes to see if the color has leaked into the bowl. If it has, I will alert my parents that we have a leak._____________________
I will turn off the water while I am brushing my teeth and only use it to rinse._____________________
I will learn how the watering system works for my yard and make sure it doesn’t go off automatically when there is enough water from rain. ____________________
I will try out a “Navy” shower. I will get wet, turn off the water, scrub all over and then turn the water back on to rinse__________________________
I will show this to my parents._________________
Examples of skits (Earth Dramas)
Tipping point or the Point of No Return
Participants are invited to go into an imaginary boat. Eventually all the children in the group are aboard. There should be enough pails, cups, or spoons for all participants. The reader will designate one child after the next to get into the “boat.”
Narrator reads: It’s a lovely day for a cruise out into the Gulf. The Captain (indicate one child) goes aboard to get the ship ready. She/he counts the life preservers and is very satisfied to be so well prepared. (The rest of the group lines up to come aboard) One by one the passengers board and enjoy looking out onto the calm sea before them. The Captain unties the ship and goes to the wheel. Off they go. “Look,” one of the passengers says. “There are some dolphins.”
The captain picks up his mike and says that dolphins love to perform, especially when there is a lot of noise. (The entire group stomps and claps.) Everyone is very busy observing the dolphins. But one passenger notices a tiny leak where water is coming into the ship. (It is important here for everyone to cut out the noise and just mime watching the dolphins so that the reader can be heard) He/she tries to get someone’s attention but everyone is too busy watching the delightful dolphins. Finally another passenger notices that his/her feet are getting wet. “Hay,” he/she says. “Water is coming in.” “That little bit?” The person next to him/her says. “That’s nothing. It’s a beautiful day and the show out there is truly spectacular.” The cruise goes along happily.
The first passenger to notice the leak sees that water is coming in even faster. “Help,” he/she says. “Water is coming in.” Everyone turns to him/her and says, “That’s nothing!.” They all go back to enjoying themselves. Time goes by. The two worried passengers say to each other, “We must inform the Captain.” And they go to tell him of the leak. By this time, the passengers are noticing that their feet are getting wet. The Captain sees the water pouring in and says,” Why didn’t you tell me before!” Water is now knee deep.
The Captain grabs the mike and says, “Do not panic, but we have a little leak. Could everyone grab a cup or pail and start to bail the ship out.” (People start to panic and bail out water.) The passengers now feel the danger. Everyone bails water out at a furious pace, but the water is coming in faster than they can bail it out. The Captain realizes that the ship is going to sink. “Mayday, mayday,” he calls on his radio. “Distribute the life jackets,” he says into his mike. At last the ship reaches the point of no return. Down it goes with all the passengers in the water hoping for a quick rescue.
Prop: Something like a dirty curtain sheer to represent the cloud of dirty air
Cast: Students will play a smoke stack, a tree, the dirty air (this actor waves around the curtain sheer), and children playing Duck Duck Goose.
The group acts out the drama as the leader reads:
A smoke stack emits a cloud or dirty air into the atmosphere. (Smoke stack actor belches and passes the curtain sheer to the Air. Air takes it toward the children at play. The children should really be playing duck duck goose) Down the road from the factory smokestack, some children are having fun playing outdoors. The dirty air blows toward them. (The children cough.) The dirty air comes even closer. (The air throws the curtain over the children). The children have trouble breathing, (This is a 10 second opportunity to overact.) The gasping children make their way to a nearby tree. (As the children get near the tree they manage to throw off the curtain.) The air under the tree is much better. (The children smile and breathe deeply). The children make a promise to plant more trees. (High fives all around)
The Food Chain
Props: Yellow ribbon, green ribbon, blue cloth, fishing pole, frying pan
Participants take on the roles of aspects of nature. For The Food Chain, we lay a blue piece of cloth or paper on the ground and designate it “the estuary.” Then we cast the production. One student is given a long yellow ribbon and told he/she is a ray of light, streaking from the sun. Other students are cast as the seaweed and given green ribbons. They are invited to sit on the estuary. A student will play the little fish and another will play the bigger fish. (Or, as we have sometimes done, one child can hold a cut out little fish and a cutout big fish.) Finally, we will need a fisherman, with a pole with a string, and his family, who have a frying pan. This casting will take a group of 6-10 students. Everyone should have a part. If you have a small group, the ray of sunshine can double as the fisherman’s daughter.
The students act out the drama in the style of Story Theater as the adult reads the story:
An energetic ray of light streaks from the sun, through the atmosphere, to the gleaming estuary. (The ray runs from the farthest point, waving the yellow ribbon, to the estuary). Seaweed quickly pulls it in to transform it into food. (The “seaweed” will grab the yellow ribbon and merge it with their green ribbon). A small fish comes along and eats the seaweed. (The fish takes the green and yellow ribbons.) A bigger fish comes along and eats the little fish (The big fish takes the ribbons). A human fisherman throws out a line, and is happy to feel a tug. (The big fish ties the ribbons to the line). He’s caught the big fish. His family will have a great dinner. (He throws the ribbons into the frying pan and “cooks” them.) His youngest daughter smells the fish and comes to eat it. (She takes the ribbons out of the frying pan) She eats a big piece of the big fish. (She takes the ribbons out of the frying pan and waves them around.) The ray of sunlight gives her energy to work and play another day. (She acts energetic)
The Water Cycle
A piece of blue cloth is placed on the ground and deemed “the reservoir.” Two or three students are cast as water drops. They are each given a crystal (the kind you find in wind chimes or lamps. They must be plastic or otherwise resistant to breakage. Another possibility would be the ice cycles for Christmas trees. It would be ideal, if the crystals were attached to a piece of string so that the actors could maneuver them like marionettes.) A student is assigned the part of holding the pipe that goes from the reservoir to the house. The pipe could be the tube from a roll of paper towels, or any tube big enough for the crystals to pass through. One student, who has a glass and a tissue, is cast as a sad human. The remaining students are cast as the new drops that form into the cloud.
The students act out the drama as the adult reads the story:
Some water vapor condenses high in the sky. (The water drops hold the crystals high above their heads.) The droplets band together forming drops in a cloud. (The water drops come together, still holding the crystals high). By banding together, they become so heavy that they fall to earth. (The actors drop the crystals to the ground, but hold onto the string attached to their crystal). The water seeps through the ground and makes its way to the reservoir. (The actors drag the crystals along the ground to the reservoir). The drops find themselves going through a pipe. (The actors push the crystals through a tube). A sad young human turns on the tap for a drink of water. (The human mimes turning on a faucet. The pipe-holder dumps the crystals into his/her glass). The sad young human drinks the water. (The human mimes drinking). The sad young human is so sad that he (or she) begins to cry. (The human weeps. He/she sneaks the crystals out of his/her glass and holds them in front of his/her cheeks.) The sad young human wipes the tears from his (or her) face. (The human wraps the crystals in a tissue). The tears in the tissue evaporate into the air. (One of the remaining water drop actors takes the crystals out of the tissue, keeps one, and gives the others to the remaining actors.) The water vapor condenses high in the sky. (The new water droplets hold the crystals high over their heads.).
All of the actors say: HERE WE GO AGAIN!!.
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PS Some of the Earth Dramas work well as For All Ages