"Good Neighbours Come In All Species"
This evocative quote comes from landscape designer, Sally Wasowski. She and her husband, Andy Wasowski, are known as botanical missionaries — an evocative moniker!
One of the best ways to help our students learn to know and to love the natural world around them — in the school's playground, nearby parks or their own backyard — is to show them, through bioregional or place-based learning experiences, that their world abounds with living things who will serve as good neighbours and friends,
if we get to know them.
To a great extent we are a deplaced people for whom our immediate places are no longer sources of food, water, livelihood, energy, materials, friends, recreation, or sacred inspiration.
— David Orr
Don't let your students learn from you, by default, that the natural community around them offers nothing valuable to learn.
To help create a sense of place for the students in the small communities near my home, and to show teachers that they don't need a science degree to teach environmental and sustainability education, I developed an arts- and humanities-based program called "Good Neighbours Come in All Species."
I designed this program to help students (preschool to 12 years old) develop a reverence for all life and to kindle their innate connection with the rest of Nature. I facilitated the six sessions once a week over six weeks, but that is not set in stone. Good Neighbours could be run as a one-week theme unit or festival, as well. I like to run it in springtime, when everyone wants to be outdoors!
GOOD NEIGHBOURS COME IN ALL SPECIES
- Session One - Making Friends with Nature involved sensory awareness and Nature appreciation activities that had the children exploring their schoolyard. Each child chose a "Heart Spot" (after Joseph Cornell's work) that they then visited each week, with a different focus. This session was a playful way to develop a "sense of place" as well as an introduction to the ecological principles of energy flows; (re)cycling of air, water and soil nutrients; change; and interrelationships.
- Session Two - Nature's Gifts to Our School had the students building terraria for their classrooms and bird feeders for their schoolyard.
- Session Three - Your Ecological Self was an art-filled time of depicting favourite spaces and totem elements or animals through masks, banners, and mandalas.
- Session Four - Finding Your Song in Nature included an outdoor poetry trail, music making with natural objects, and listening for one's "song" amongst the natural sounds in the playground.
- Session Five - Up Close and Personal was all about seeing the rest of Nature through new eyes, accomplished with a digitally photographed Nature "scavenger hunt," videographed introductions to everyone's Heart Spot, and simple solargraphy.
- Session Six - A Festival of Good Neighbours was a community celebration for sharing the gifts received from our "neighbours" of all species as well as our artwork and poetry.
Good Neighbours wasn't so much about teaching poetry, art and music outdoors as it was about using poetry, art and music to create connections to the natural environment around their school, in order to give the rest of Nature value in the eyes of the students.
I believe that literally meeting and making connections with their neighbours of other species can be transformative for both students and teachers. Here's what some of my participants had to say:
- "Nature is all around us ... and I learned a lot about it. I liked the Heart Spots."
- "Thank you for giving me this gift of knowing so much about nature."
- "You helped us find ourselves in nature."
- "Thanks for teaching me to be more aware of things around me."
- "The best part was learning to be friends with nature."
These children, if parents and the school system continue to encourage experiential opportunities to connect with their "neighbours," will become adults who care enough for all forms of life that they include the rest of Nature in their personal and professional discussions, planning and decision-making.
Return from Good Neighbours to Transformative Nature Study
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