Giving thanks plays a prominent role during the fall holidays, but it’s a practice that our children (really, all of us) can benefit from all year. Genuine gratitude for the gifts that nature provides, when cultivated over time, translates directly into a lifelong calling to protect our planet. Here are some of our favorite ways to help kids express their gratitude for the Earth.
What are some amazing things about the Earth? What are some of our favorite gifts and treasures from the Earth? Then wonder, how can we celebrate and show our thanks to the Earth? Let kids share their ideas and follow their lead, offering support with gathering materials as needed. Or, try some of the following ways to help kids connect with and show gratitude for our planet.
Host a party for the Earth:
Hosting a birthday party for the Earth has become one of our favorite Earth Day traditions, but this activity is a blast for kids any time of year. Whip up some nature treats for your Earth party. Make a nature curtain to decorate for your celebration. Invite kids to create a special present to gift the Earth. Read the full DIY Activity here.
One bag of trash:
Bring a bag and some gloves and invite kids to help you clean up your favorite green space together as a gift to the Earth. Read the full DIY activity here to get more ideas on how safely involve kids in cleaning up green spaces.
Befriend a tree:
Trees hold great meaning in human’s lives and give us a sense of place. Find a tree to love in your yard or park. Give it a name based on its best features (We still treasure our “lumpy bumpy tree”). Get to know it as you feel its bark, lay in its shade, and climb on its limbs. Collect its fallen fruits, leaves and sticks, and see what you can make out of them. Thank the tree for the raw materials, as you show her what you’ve made with her loose parts. Read the full DIY activity here.
Thank you art:
Use treasures from nature to create a thank you card for the Earth. Arrange or glue objects from nature onto paper to make a collage. Or, create your own paint from berries, spices and leaves.
Community Nature Display:
Make a community nature display in your park or neighbrohood to invite others to appreciate the many gifts that the Earth provides. Collect nature objects and make a display or design somewhere where others will find it. Leave additional nature objects nearby so community members can add to the design too. Read the full DIY activity here.
Cut out plastic:
Much of the plastic we use and throw away ends up in our oceans, and animals like sea turtles can mistake the plastic for food and get entangled in it. To help all of Earth's sea creatures, we can each find ways to use less or even no plastic at home. And, kids can really help! Start by exploring a variety of objects to help kids identify which ones are made from plastic. Then, go for a plastic hunt in your home and work together to brainstorm non-plastic alternatives. Read the full DIY activity here.
Be a water Protector:
Read our Water Protectors DIY activity to find simple ways kids and their grown-ups can take action to conserve water in their homes and make a positive impact on water supply in their community.
Why is this activity great for kids?
When we personify our Earth just a bit to throw the Earth a party, present it with gifts or acts of kindness, we activate kids’ imaginations, build a sense of empathy and a greater, more personal connection to the natural world.
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Tinkergarten for Teachers
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We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!