Learn how to connect the kids in your life to the amazing natural world that surrounds us. Come and explore new educational resources in this webinar.
By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Amira Maddison
This article appeared in the January edition of Island Parent.
When I went to elementary school 20-odd years ago in Vancouver, we had guest speakers come into the classroom and teach us about climate change, referred to as global warming at the time. I was lucky to have environmentally-conscious teachers who invited these guests in. They were often young, progressive university students who upon learning and studying about our changing climate, chose to act by educating young kids.
At that time, they were telling us we were the future. That us kids had the power to change the course our society and planet were on. That if we grew up and acted on the facts they were sharing with us, a crisis could be averted.
That time for youth has come and gone.
Climate change is happening. Business and consumption as usual in a globalized world will saddle us with 3 to 5°C of warming within the lifetime of children being born today, radically altering the world as we know it. Many British Columbians are already embracing climate-friendly solutions including building renewable energy systems, supporting local food production and demanding mass public transit.
Collectively, we still need to prepare ourselves and strengthen our resilience in light of climate change. Most importantly, we need informed youth who are armed with the facts and the urgency to act.
So, where do our children receive climate change education?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with many elementary and middle school teachers who do an amazing job of incorporating environmental and climate themes into their classrooms. These teachers should be commended for taking the initiative to do so on their own, as the new BC curriculum does not tackle the important facts of the climate crisis as the forefront for any mandatory course (only Science 7 shows students evidence of climate change over geological time as one of the course’s four ‘Big Ideas’). The new curriculum is designed to be more open to what students are interested in learning and teachers’ areas of specialization, but this is not nearly strong enough to ensure our children are really learning about climate change.
The climate crisis already has the biggest impact on students’ present, immediate and long-term future. The school system has a critical role in helping students understand what climate change is and understanding how serious it is. The only courses that touch on these important topics are optional, they are not offered by many schools, and they are only for Grades 11 and 12.
More alarming is that Environmental Science 11/12 is not considered an acceptable science pre-requisite for most universities. This means many students interested in the environment opt not to take the course, lowering demand for the course and the likelihood that it will be offered at their school.
I believe the public’s understanding of humanity’s contribution to climate change is poor. A 2018 CBC poll suggests that one third of Canadians don’t believe industry and human activity are the driving forces behind climate change. We need to have more emphasis on the study of weather, climate and climate change in the context of local places beginning in elementary school and continuing through to the end of secondary programs. These topics are crucial for the development of an eco-literate citizen who is fully informed and capable of making wise decisions on climate-related issues, which are increasing constantly.
How can you raise an informed child?
Talk to your kids about the climate crisis. No age is too young to talk about refusing single use plastic, reducing, repairing, reusing and recycling. The same is true for topics like the importance of BC’s incredible biodiversity and rare old-growth forests. A care for nature and the beings that live there can foster an informed and empowered child. Here are a few ideas to help raise eco-conscious citizens:
- Get outside: connect to nature.
- Go to the museum: learn about the past to change the present and future.
- Turn composting into a fun project for your kids and neighbours.
- Turn emotion into action: let’s do something about it!
- Model sustainable choices: make these habits routine.
- Start swapping: start a circular economy with neighbours.
- Make walking a habit: to and from school, work, or the park.
- Pack litter-free lunches: say no to single use bags, and yes to reusable.
- Clean up your community or help your child’s teacher plan a clean-up!
Check your library for inspiring stories like The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle or World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky.
Talk to your child’s teachers:
Does your child’s teacher have the resources they need to bring these topics into the classroom? Encourage your child’s teacher to show a climate change focused movie, or assign a book or novel about a success in the face of climate change. Help your child’s class do citizen science, start a garden, talk about past experiences by learning from elders, or do a service or research project.
Together, parents and teachers can help raise informed, eco-literate citizens who are prepared to face the climate crisis.
Feature image by Mya Van Woudenberg/Sierra Club BC.
By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Amira Maddison
This article appeared in the Island Parent Family Summer Guide 2019.
Tourism BC describes Vancouver Island as “old-growth forests, snowcapped mountains, and untamed shorelines which create one of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems.” With another sunny weekend approaching, how do we do justice to these beautiful days in the areas we love; walking, hiking, cycling, and camping? How can we best protect those beloved natural habitats?
Leave no trace. What does the three-word slogan really mean? Simply put, it is the best practice to follow to enjoy and protect our natural spaces. It’s a lot more than just packing out your garbage.
As a kid, leave no trace was a hard ethic to follow. I would plead with my parents to collect small treasures from beaches and trails. After all, how much of an impact could a handful of shells have? If we multiply my impact by a thousand times each weekend, then we have created a serious problem. Just one small example: seashells, believe it or not, play an important role in ecosystems. They are shelter for algae, building materials for bird nests and armour for hermit crabs.
Here are some “leave no trace” principles and tips for you and the kids:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
As a child, you don’t often get much say in planning an outing. Encourage your young one to help with preparations. Check the weather forecast, pack appropriate clothing, visit the park website to find maps, regulations, and identify hazards at beaches and campgrounds. You might be surprised to learn that simple actions can have a lasting impact in an area and what steps you can take to mitigate it.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Stick to trails and established camp sites. Your youngster’s little feet can still have a big impact on the surrounding habitat. Help them be conscious of their foot-stepping, and turn this into a game by seeing if they can leave no evidence of footprints.
Dispose of Waste Properly
This is also known as the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ motto. Reduce how much disposable garbage you bring into nature by removing the packaging before you go. Play a game of “I Spy” on the beach and see who can collect the most litter. Pack an extra bag to pack it out with you.
Leave What You Find
And we’re back to the seashells. Try giving your child a camera to document their favourite treasures during your time outside. Create a nature journal or slideshow with your pictures to preserve your memories together. Let “take only memories (and nowadays photographs), and leave only footprints” be your mantra.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Vancouver Island has many restrictions on campfires, especially in periods of drought like we’re experiencing this year. Know the regulations in your area before you head out, and use a designated campfire ring where available. You can create a “leave no trace” fire by keeping them small and by always fully extinguishing it before bed and before leaving the area. Get your kids to help dump water on the fire – in a safe manner!
Animal encounters can be exciting and a great learning opportunity for kids. Know before you go which animals you’re likely to encounter and any safety concerns. Observe from a distance and never approach or feed wildlife. Get your youngster to help store food in a safe place such as a bear hang or in provided bear bins.
Be Considerate of Others
We share these outdoor spaces with each other. Remind your little one to be courteous to other users, and let the sound of nature prevail.
Try taking your kids to volunteer with a local park, nature conservancy, or non-profit that’s working to protect your local area. Pull scotch broom, tag hummingbirds, or do a nighttime bat count. The possibilities are endless!
Practice leave no trace ethics with your little ones – our natural world depends upon their respect.
Feature image by Jens Wieting.
By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator, Kirsten Dallimore
Sierra Club BC’s Education Team has been hard at work! Just last week, we delivered thirteen school-based workshops and two professional development workshops for teachers in Treaty 8 territory of the Dane-zaa people. More specifically, we taught in the communities of Dawson Creek, Wonowon and Fort St John during Science Odyssey, thanks to the support of NSERC’s PromoScience Program.
It turns out we arrived at a good time in the season. We heard that even last week the snow was still flying there, so we were very thankful to feel some warm sunshine. The sun was working hard to melt the remaining patches of snow left in the forests, the robins were singing in the tree tops, and the new buds were forming on the trees in the area. It was an idyllic spring scene.
This May backdrop provided the perfect setting to launch our exploratory and hands-on learning programs both inside and outside the classroom doors. These activities help students make a personal connection to and develop a greater sense of place in their own community.
For example, the People and Plants workshop we ran focused on learning about local plants’ ecology and habitat and their Indigenous uses. In the northern edition of this workshop, we explored the importance of Saskatoon berry bushes, cottonwood trees, Labrador tea and the birch tree.
I am happy to report that most of these kids still have the opportunity to go out and collect these plants and that they still grow in their communities. I had the privilege of hearing stories about students collecting Saskatoon berries with their families on their own farms and making jam and baking pies. Others shared their experiences of collecting Labrador tea leaves and drinking the tea themselves for medicine.
Making birch syrup is also a popular hobby in the north. Students in Wonowon were particularly proud to share their knowledge about this tradition. They truly appreciate the work that takes place within their own community by collecting the sap in the early spring, then boiling it to make the syrup.
I felt there was a spark that was ignited within the students while learning more about taking care of and respecting nature. This got students thinking about how they are responsible for being stewards of the land and practicing the sustainable harvesting of local plants. Most importantly, it’s also up to them to share this understanding with members of their family and community.
Since my first visit, the Peace River Valley has run deep in my heart. For what will this place look like in 100 years? Will we have done what needs to be done to protect this place? It is always a gift to have the opportunity to visit the Peace River Valley because it is a place of great natural and cultural history. The relationship that people who live along the Peace have with the land and water is truly sacred.
When I go to stand and look down on the river, I see a river that is calm and free flowing and I also see a river that is raging and mighty. The Peace River is most definitely a mighty force of nature carving out this grand northern landscape. So I stand on its shores and wonder; what are the stories this river can share with us? What are the lessons we must learn from it? How can we best take care of this river so that it is able to keep flowing freely right now and in the future?
Thank you School District 60 (Peace River North) for inviting us to be part of your community again this year, and School District 59 (Peace River South) for welcoming Amira and I for the first time. I wish everyone the best for a beautiful spring and that you, too, may get the chance to stand on the mighty shores of the Peace River one day.
Feature image by Graham Osborne.
By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Amira Maddison
This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of Island Parent magazine.
Spring. A time for new growth and sunshine – albeit through breaks in the rain. Constellations that have been hidden for months reappear in the clear night sky. Vancouver Island is beginning to bloom and I’m feeling grateful for the lengthening days ahead. For some, the lengthening days means more hours outside with family, but is this true for all of us?
During the winter holidays I was given the book The Lost Words, illustrated by Jackie Morris and written by Robert Macfarlane. It’s beautifully illustrated, with meticulous wordcraft, large pages, and its inspiration comes from what is becoming lost to us.
In 2007, when a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary—widely used in schools around the world—was published, it was missing around forty common words related to nature. Apparently these words were not being used enough by children to merit their place in the new version of the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” included acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, raven, willow and wren.
Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet point, cut and paste, and voicemail. This substitution—the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual—is being seen as a powerful sign of the gulf between childhood and the natural world.
Why does this matter?
In Macfarlane’s words, “a place for literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining.” Unless we have a word for something, we are unable to conceive of it. There is a direct relationship between our imagination, our ability to have ideas about things and our vocabulary.
An open letter in response to the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s omissions was written by naturalists, artists, and writers, including Margaret Atwood, illustrator Jackie Morris and wordsmith Robert Macfarlane. “There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s wellbeing,” the letter said.
To me, this is a wakeup call. For many of us who grew up in an age before smartphones, who spent our weekends wandering unsupervised through parks and neighbourhoods, who use lines like “kids these days” in reference to youth on devices, this mass migration of children moving indoors is painful to watch. But for kids, the price is much higher: a steep rise in health problems, heightened social pressures and a frightening set of new addictions around technology.
“Playtime—especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play—is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development,” says Richard Louv, bestselling author of Last Child in the Woods, which links lack of nature to disturbing childhood trends like a rise in depression.
There’s no better time than spring for doing a little cleaning, so why not tidy up our habits? It’s time we helped our children by increasing our own eco-literacy and deepening our nature connections.
I encourage you to take the time to unplug and join your children in spending at least five unstructured hours outside a week. Maybe you’ll hike a trail, maybe you’ll run through a grassy field, maybe you’ll go to the beach. Maybe you’ll go on a wilderness vacation, but maybe, and perhaps this is even more essential than a deep wilderness experience, you and your little ones will just sit in the front yard and watch the clouds go by. The goal is to normalize time spent outside, unplugged.
It’s time to rewild our children, and make childhood an adventure again. Kids deserve the chance to explore nature without an agenda or a chaperone, to take risks and learn to get themselves out of trouble, and to fall in love with nature so they become stewards of the earth.
Find The Lost Words online or at your local library or bookstore and conjure back what is becoming lost before it slips away forever.
Feature image by Mike Baird.
By Kirsten Dallimore, Environmental Educator
When I go out into nature I am looking to feel some sort of connection. I use my senses to explore the landscape, the flora and fauna and the water. I always need to go to the water because being near water brings me a sense of calmness like nothing else. I have a quiet mind and child-like play comes out when I am near water, which leads me to have a deeper nature connection moment in that place.
When I am in nature I am often searching for a place to spend time reflecting in, or I am looking to have a big wild nature moment. A big nature moment is when you finally reach the top of the mountain and look out and see a bald eagle flying above you. I’m always seeking out adventure and also a feeling of being alive and free. I know my big nature moments will lead me to have a great story to share when I get back home.
A core routine I like to practice is sharing my story of the day. Sharing your story with someone who is fully listening is a way you can experience a fulfilling and longer lasting deep nature connection moment.
There is a lot of talk out there about making a connection with nature. What is connection? What does it look like for you? How does it feel when you make a connection with nature? How are we able to connect more deeply with nature? And at the same time how can we connect with ourselves and others in a meaningful way?
One endeavour I’ve taken on this year is participating in a program called the Renewal of Creative Path. This is a program shared by Jon Young through the 8 Shields Institute. The 8 Shields Institute is a global movement in rebuilding nature-connected intergenerational mentoring communities.
I’ve felt very excited to find this place where I could dive deeper into these questions about building connection. I wanted to see what I could discover about what it takes to be fully alive and engaged. I want to share with all of you the eight attributes of connection.
Each attribute is associated with one of the eight directions:
- North-Love and forgiveness
- Northeast– Quiet mind
- East-Inner Happiness/Child-like happiness
- South-Mentoring & paying it forward/Unconditional listening
- Southwest– Empathy and respect for nature
- West-Being truly helpful, gifts are activated
- Northwest-Fully aliveness/Awareness of the sacredness of life
To get started on this journey I encourage you to go through each attribute and ask these five simple questions:
- What’s happening with me when I have this attribute?
- What is this attribute telling me?
- What is this attribute teaching me on a deeper level?
- How is this attribute helping me?
- How is this attribute helping me to help others?
The goal of having all of these attributes working within you is to become fully connected with nature, yourself and others in your community. Once you have gone through each question for the eight attributes, you can start to design your own ideal scene journal.
An ideal scene journal is something you can create at the beginning of each year that sets the stage for how you can be working towards being fully connected. This can be created by writing down how you envision yourself embodying these attributes. The more specific, the better.
Best wishes to everyone in finding your own path to connection with nature, yourself and your community.
I encourage you all to get connected with the 8 Shields Institute to learn more about deep nature connection, mentoring and cultural repair. You can learn more at: http://8shields.org/about/about-the-8-shields-model/
Feature image by Jess Alford