Archive for March, 2010


Earth Hour part 2

On Friday I posted a mini update announcing Earth Hour for Saturday.  This year was even bigger than years previous. I hope this is a trend that continues not a fad that fizzles out. At as child (highschool aged) of the 70’s I have seen the green thing come and go in one cycle already. I am happy to see it back and I will do anything to make the new Green feel welcome enough to stay around for a bit.

For my part in the Earth Hour celebration, I took a walk. I live in the coastal bend area of Texas and my city was not one of those participating. Further, I live with people who I could not convince to turn off the lights and  TV so I turned off what I had control of and went walking to a place near my house where I like to observe wildlife. It was a lovely evening. The moon was nearing full. Venus was high in the sky. The ducks that still remain were active in the little pond. The osprey that has not yet left for the north country was on her perch overseeing the Laguna Madre and the little pond.

Sitting quietly on the edge of the pond I heard the crickets, the tree frogs, the large frogs and all the other chorus of the night start their symphony in slow, incremental stages. Black Bellied Whistling Ducks flew, in groups of 2 to 10, seeking the place they roost in the night. Laughing Gulls made their nightly commute from their foraging sites to the islands of the Laguna for their nightly rest. Slowly, the color of the sky passed from pale to deep blue and the stars came out. All in all, an excellent Earth Hour.

Earth Hour

Started three years ago to draw attention to simple things that people can do to reduce energy use and carbon emissions Earth Hour has gained traction. This year’s hour begins Saturday March 27th at 8:30 in Australia and will circumnavigate the globe from time zone to time zone.

This is an excellent time to turn off the lights, the TV, the computer, the AC and all the other unnecessary electrical things, get outside and see what you see.

I hope to see you there.

Get Wild Child

Here in the US, this past week was National Wildlife Week. This observance was started by the National Wildlife Federation in 1938 as National Wildlife Restoration Week. From its early roots to the present, the focus has always been to maintain relationship with the natural world to encourage protection of the lands and species. What has changed over time is the amount of time that people spend outside. While I couldn’t find concrete statistics about the amount of time children historically spent outside, the current data that the National Wildlife Foundation is using on its site state that the average child spends about 7 hours in front of TVs and computers and about 4 minutes outside each day.

This year’s theme is Get Wild Child. But how do you get wild in a controlled environment. And how do parents let go of their fear that something bad might happen to their child. Once, some time ago, I saw a map that showed the difference between free roaming territory of our grandparents compared to today’s children and the difference is from about 5 mile radius for our grandfathers, if I recall correctly, and the driveway for today’s children.  As I was doing my search, trying (unsuccessfully) to find that map, I came across a couple of blogs that talk about the fact that the reason that things are safer for today’s kids is that we protect them more and that this is a good thing. I have to wonder, is it? And if so, at what cost? As a teacher of 9th graders, I deal with more attitude from them and less imagination. While I will be the first to agree that schools kill a lot of creativity, when I ask for it, I can’t get it.

I have a lot of wild children in my classroom, but not many Wild Children.

So, how can you get children to be Wild, in a good way, without losing your mind over what they are up to and how safe they are?

Start small. Any beginning is a beginning and a beginning is 90% of the goal. Here are some ideas I have seen:

  • Let her make a trip to the local convenience store or around the block, on foot or by bike. (walk with her, if you must, and get a little wild yourself)
  • Let him ride his bike, out of sight, to school every day and ask for a nature report of what he saw on the way to and from when he gets home.
  • Let her go with her friends to the park to play someday, when you are not there. Find support and comfort with other parents who are learning to let go.
  • Turn off the TV and stop watching alarmist news programs.
  • Remind yourself that most children who are harmed (less than 1% of all children) are harmed by someone they know well enough to trust.
  • Let the kids build their own fort.
  • Let them climb the trees in their back yard.
  • Remind yourself that you survived, and grew from, every scraped knee and sprained ankle.
  • Most of all, give your kids time and space to risk, make mistakes. This is how we learn and grow.
  • Go to Get Wild Child and try some of the National Wildlife Foundations activities.

Over on the Children and Nature Network’s Connect forum, Richard Louv has a discussion about what we can do to help parents deal with the fear of letting go and the fear of being a “bad parent” for letting their kids have the freedoms that we had and took for granted. We are still looking for ideas.

What would you do?

Children and Autonomy

Perseverance, discipline, responsibility and independence are learned skills. I will differentiate skills from knowledge in that knowledge can be contained in books whereas skills are learned only by doing and usually by trial and error. The process of acquiring skills is, I think, hugely important to the development of people. In the process of acquiring other skills, like playing an instrument, baking, or building a car for example, you pick up side skills along the way. These side skills include, but aren’t necessarily limited to, perseverance, discipline, responsibility and independence.

These four, in my opinion, major life skills, are very much on my mind at the moment because of my interactions with my 9th grade students. Over the course of the last two years my opinion of what is going on with these kids has been changing. I initially thought they were a bunch of lazy gits who were more interested in socializing than learning. I am coming to the conclusion that they aren’t lazy so much as helpless. In conversations I have had with them I am learning that many of them have never had to do anything on their own and have never really been held accountable for the consequence of their actions. How on earth are they to learn how to act on their own if they are so protected? As an example, in teaching science I schedule labs. Many of these labs are like following recipes, you have a set of steps you do in order and you take down the results of following those steps. These labs demonstrate processes and show how things work. The thing of it is, if I am not actively watching every step for every group, impossible since I have not yet been cloned, the students will stop until specifically instructed to do the next step. If the students meet something that confuses them they will not act if I don’t get to them to answer their question. Often they won’t even make it known to me or any of their peers that they need help. If, on a lab like this, I get half the assignments completed in the allotted time I count it a victory. Personally, this makes me sad as well as more than a little worried for the future of these people and the world. At what point are they going to miraculously learn to act on their own. This level of passivity does not bode well for society if the bulk of its population is willing to accept anything that happens to them and only act if it receives direction from on high.

So what does this have to do with nature? A lot, actually. The children I am seeing have grown up in controlled environments and have spent more time in structured play than in imaginative free play. When I ask them what they do with their free time they say they play video games–rules are fixed and immutable, watch DVDs–a completely passive activity, go to movies or shop–consumptive and passive. Please do not think that I believe that there is no role for this technology. None of these activities are intrinsically bad in and of themselves. I just think that structured play needs to be balanced with a hefty dose of unstructured free roaming play. I believe this more strongly because of the response I get if I ask if my students play outside: they say “it’s too hot and too boring.” These kids don’t know how to make their own constructive fun because they have never had to.

Playing outside in nature teaches kids to build their fun. They learn to solve problems. If the trunk of the tree is too tall and smooth to climb, some boards, nails and a hammer and you have a ladder to the branches. Wandering into the poison ivy patch teaches you to avoid it next time or to take a hot soapy scrub if you didn’t. Having your fort blow down overnight in a strong wind teaches you to start over and build better. Getting dumped off your bike when you hit the unseen rock teaches you to be more observant, brush your scrapes off and keep going. Taking a wrong turn and getting lost on the way to a distant place teaches you to find your way to landmarks and keep going. Successfully navigating the pitfalls that happen when you are acting alone teaches you that you can get out of the problems that can pop up in life. It teaches you to believe in your own competence, a feeling that you get about yourself when you have persevered, acted independently with discipline and learned to be responsible for your own outcomes.

Teaching kids to play needs to begin early when kids are still curious. If you wait till the child is old enough to be completely unsupervised they will not be interested. In the past, older siblings and neighbors took the younger children in hand and had a role in bringing them along in learning how to be safe while playing on their own. Since it may well be that we have lost a generation of free roaming children, adults will have to take a hand in teaching this current generation that they can make their own fun outside and learn to be independent people on the way.

What were your childhood playgrounds and what did they teach you?

Last week I wrote about the beginnings of turning your yard into a nature center. This week I want to continue that theme with links to posts by others.  I want to start with a lovely, peaceful video that Ernie McLaney posted on Children and Nature Network.

Note: Select play in 480p, just to the right of the volume button for the best quality play. Start the video playing and you will see the button to choose this option.

The images in this video come from a yard, in North Carolina, that is certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat. It shows what can be accomplished in a small suburban yard with planning and creativity. Most children love to putter in the dirt if they are started early enough. Working alongside you to plan and plant the garden builds connection with both you and nature. Researching what to put in the garden helps everyone understand the native species that live in the area.

All animals need four things for good habitat. They need food. This is what I started with, a simple feeder. This brought in some birds. They need water. I have a single water source but this year I will add at least one more. Adding the water source definitely improved the numbers and variety of birds at the feeders. Animals, and birds, need shelter so providing places where they can build nests and roost during bad weather will attract them, for example hanging houses for birds or making little rock piles or overturned broken plant pots for lizards and toads. For those who are a little uneasy with these kinds of critters, they are usually voracious insect eaters. Finally, animals need cover where they can hide from predators. Many things can do double duty, shrubbery that is dense but has berries provides both food and cover. Tall grass allows wildlife like rabbits and toads to hide and provides food for the rabbits to eat. Insects hiding in the grasses provide food for the toads.

There are many resources to help you get started. I have listed a few as a starting point, below.

National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat program.

Wildlife Habitat Council. They also have a listing by state.

The Wild Ones.

Each of these provide guidelines for starting a garden. The library can provide good books. But, one place that will have good advice that is specific to your area is the local nursery. Let them know that you are wanting to plant a low maintenance wildlife friendly garden and they can get you started.

What lives in your neighborhood? How are you going to help it thrive?