Monthly Archives: May 2023

Thank You, Earth

Gratitude and appreciation are essential elements in raising children to be naturalists and environmental stewards. We take care of what we love. Throughout the school year I have made an effort to integrate environmental literature and learning wherever I could across the curriculum. We participated in #writeout with the National Writing Project in October, doing wonder walks and exploring acorns. We made posters and wrote 6 words for the environment, advocating for the Earth. We learned about Ansel Adams and dandelions and made wishes that we hope will disperse like seeds–resilient and gritty–growing where they land, like dandelions themselves, making the Earth a better place. Last week we read Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre, a beautiful book that combines photographs and descriptive language to express appreciation for all that nature has to offer. This became the inspiration for our own letters of gratitude to the Earth in the form of zines.

We made zines earlier in the school year, so it seems like perfect timing to come back full circle especially since students have made so much progress as writers and readers. To push their composition and zine making skills, this time we created a plan before launching into the zine itself. Students planned their front and back covers and the six interior pages before creating the actual zine. They were encouraged to stretch their ideas, adding detail and description for each page.

What I love the most is that students had so many ideas about what they are grateful for in nature. They love trees and clouds and rainbows. Animals (both cute and feisty according to one student), the ocean, and flowers were prevalent topics. Pollinators and water, and of course, constellations also were featured. In each of their zines, I can see traces of my teaching…about writing and art and the environment. Here’s a student reading her zine.

I am hopeful that these young students will grow up to be advocates for our planet, for healthy environments for everyone, for sustainable practices and clean energy. Finding spaces for students to learn about the challenges we face on our planet, about the importance of conservation, and about ways to stand up and voice both their appreciation and their concerns for the future are important and easily combined with the reading, writing, science, and art that are already the typical parts of school curriculum when you plan carefully.

Students’ notes of gratitude to the Earth will be on display for Open House next week, spreading their appreciation and awe of the natural world to their families and others who peek into our classroom. How might you construct and spread your message of gratitude to the Earth? I am looking forward to hearing your ideas.

Dandelion Dreams: May 16, 2023

I admit it, I’m kind of obsessed with dandelions. There is something about the resilience and grit of this pervasive and well known weed that enchants me. I love that dandelions spring up in our lawn, in the cracks of rocks, right in the middle of an asphalt road, along the sandy edge of the beach… Last week I read my students the book Dandelion Seeds the World by Julia Richardson which follows dandelions across all seven continents. celebrating the multiple ways their seeds spread from floating on air to hitching a ride in the fur of animals…and even in their digestive systems! After reading and talking about dandelions…and the ways we make a wish and blow the seeds (which also helping them spread), we wrote about our wish for the world. Not surprisingly, at the end of the school year, they didn’t even need an example to get their pencils moving and write some important wishes. Interestingly, many were environmental wishes–about taking care of the ocean, protecting animals, preserving trees along with a couple of wishes about treating others with kindness and respect.

I always like to pair writing with some kind of art project. In the past I’ve done a variety of different kinds of dandelion creations…but for some reason was feeling uninspired by these projects. A colleague suggested the idea of black and white photography, a la Ansel Adams. Ah…a great reminder! And strangely enough, I hadn’t gotten to Ansel Adams yet this year. So, to get students started I read a favorite book of mine, Antsy Ansel, a picture book biography by friend and writing project colleague Cindy Jenson Elliott. I knew I wanted students to go outside to take photos of dandelions–we had just spent time talking about the dandelion life cycle and the different versions of dandelions they might find (puffball, yellow flower, tight bud…). I was a bit worried though. The gardeners at our school do a wonderful job of keeping the grounds well groomed–would we be able to find any dandelions?

But when I asked the students, they knew just where to locate some dandelions. Of course, the first place they mentions is the “out of bounds” area of the school grounds where they aren’t allowed to play! (And yes, I took them there.). So we set off with iPads as cameras, taking photos of dandelions in all of their stages. Our time was short, so we didn’t have time for any editing before we needed to head out for lunch. Luckily, I took a peek at some of the photos…and was greatly disappointed. They were blurry and ill composed. Hmmm… So after lunch, I showed students some of my own photos of dandelions. I showed them the ones I would discard–the ones that were out of focus, the ones that were too far away–as well as my better photos that were crisp and really showed off the dandelion. Then we tried again. Phew! They were much better.

Students picked their best image and inspired by Ansel Adams, transformed it into a black and white photo. They also cropped it to make it a square image (for the sake of my display).

Here’s a couple of examples:

My wish for the world is for people to use electric cars because gas cars invade the air with gas which is not good for us to breathe in.
People are throwing trash in the water, it is not only making our world dirty it is also killing animals.
My wish for the world is to stop cutting down trees because it is killing wildlife.

My own wish for the world is that this group of first graders continue to influence and inform the adults around them about the importance of taking care of our planet…and each other. What is your dandelion dream?

Errand turned mini-vacation: SOLC 5/2/23

Have you ever had a day where a routine errand turned into a mini vacation? After working all day, I knew I needed to fill my gas tank. Knowing that my husband prefers this little out of the way gas station, I headed home to pick him up before getting gas. Since the sun decided to make an appearance today after days of a pervasive, gray marine layer, I had an idea percolating in my head. So I proposed, what if instead of taking our usual neighborhood walk after we get back from the gas station, we stop by the beach near the gas station and walk there? Tides are always a deciding factor at our local beaches. If the tides are not low enough, there isn’t enough beach to actually take a walk–and you never, ever, ever want to find yourself walking too close to cliffs that are known to crumble, showering rocks–some of them quite large–and who knows what else onto the beach below.

I lucked out. The beach just a couple of blocks away from the gas station had a modest amount of beach available. We parked, walked down about a million stairs only to be greeted by a dazzling view of the ocean.

Next we noticed hundreds and hundreds of Velella velella (also known as By-the-wind sailor) washed up on the shore. These brilliant blue relatives of the Portuguese Man of War have been washing up on our shore for the last month or so, although I’ve only seen them a few at a time before today.

As we continued our walk, the sun warmed my back and the sea breeze tickled my nose. The whoosh-whisper of the surf provided a perfect back beat for my breath, letting the work day slip away with each step I took.

There is so much character along this stretch of the beach. The residents of the houses along the shore have created whimsical ladder contraptions to give them access to the beach from their homes perched on the cliffs. And since they want access to the beach, but really don’t want visitors from the beach a ladder sticking straight out over your head doesn’t even make you bat an eye! I decided to play around with my camera. What would it look like to stand under the ladder and look up?

While the beach itself was mostly empty, I did come across a solitary shore bird out for an early dinner. It was pretty unconcerned by me and my camera, at times looking straight into my lens.

So, the trip to the gas station turned into a lovely break from the work week routine, a mini-vacation where I was immersed in sun, sea life, sounds, and a fresh ocean breeze. What a way to spend Tuesday afternoon!