from Sisters of Earth

Pax Gaia Programs
Sisters of Earth Reflections

For the Children and Future Beings
Coleen O'Connell

When we take inventory of all that needs to happen on our planet for us to make peace with each other, with creation, with the universe, it can seem overwhelming and can easily push us to despair. The pain for our world is evident by the headlines in the newspaper, the frenzy at the shopping mall, the empty food choices in the grocery store.

Where do we begin to provide the cultural therapies needed for this massive healing process?
For those inclined to use their energies for children and future beings, I would suggest the following activities for becoming a nature mentor to a child. In a world that is fast gobbling up our children with “screen” time, and labeling this generation of children as being “digitally native”, we must do direct intervention. In the now famous book Last Child in the Woods Richard Louv, a father and journalist, asks us to realize the long-term effects of children disconnected from nature. A growing movement to get outdoors is underway. We must begin the task of guiding our children to become native to their homes. Rachel Carson, in her book Sense of Wonder says:
if a child is to keep alive his [or her] inborn sense of wonder, he [or she] needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him [or her] the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." (Carson, 1956, p 45.)

She gives us a solid foundation to guide our mentorship. It isn’t hard – I assure you that the benefits of such activity will not only bring the child into relationship with a place, but deepen yours as well.

1. Start when they are babies. The roar of the ocean, the mystery of the night sky, the beauty of a flower, or butterfly, are all readily available to point out to a baby.

2. You do not have to know the names of plants and animals to enjoy them and explore their place in the ecosystem. You have only to notice and appreciate. Let there be discovery on each outdoor adventure.

3. Push the boundaries – let them stay up later than usual, let them get muddy, let them walk in puddles, sleep outside. Eat a wild meal. Don’t let our conventions stop us from exploring that which is sensual and pleasing to our spirits and senses.

4. Don’t let weather stop you – being out in a storm can be exciting. Rain and fog can bring new kinds of awareness to the forefront of attention.

5. Make up games while you explore. Rachel’s favorite was finding little evergreen trees and imagining what animal’s Christmas tree it was.

6. Work with feelings not facts. In the end, that is what they will remember.

7. A sense of wonder can happen in the city or the wilderness – indoors or outdoors. Don’t wait until you are somewhere wild to make discoveries.

8. Use all your senses – don’t get stuck on just sight and sound. You too will benefit from this activity.

9. Take note of the little things – don’t just focus on the big. You might want to purchase a small magnifying glass.

10. Use the moon, the stars and the seasons. Celebrate the cycles – have parties to share gratitude for these regular events.

11. Use field guides for identification only if this is what the next step for your discovery demands. Don’t make it an end in itself – just introduce each species as a friend whose name you’d like to know so you can talk to it in a personal way next time you see it.

12. Most important, have fun, play and relax. Give yourself a break from the heartbreaks of the world. This is healing time for you and the child.

So you see from this list, it is not at all hard to become a mentor for a child. Any child – your own, your grandchild, a neighbor child, a niece or nephew. The challenge for each of us as adults is to find a child who would enjoy your company in the out of doors. The other challenge is to find the time and to commit … a real commitment – on your calendar commitment. The payback comes immediately – it is not something you will have to wait for. The resounding ripples that will flow out into the world and future generations will be sensed by all of creation. What could be better therapy for a world in need of real relationship?

Editor's addition:
If you are a teacher, try the 100-Mile Diet with your class and keep a journal for sharing!

Carson, Rachel. (1956). A Sense of Wonder. NY: Harper & Row Publishers.

Louv, Richard. (2005). Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

Coleen O’Connell has held various positions with the Audubon Expedition Institute and Lesley University of Cambridge, MA, over the past 23 years. As former Education Director of the Institute, she designed with colleagues and is faculty in the first Ecological Teaching and Learning in the US. In its 10th year, the students and faculty have been defining the emergent qualities and skills in what it means to be an ecologically literate educator. Coleen has been an educator and activist for 35 years. She is Co-Founder and President of the Maine Earth Institute, and has served on various environmental education and community boards in New England. She has been trained in and facilitates “The Work to Reconnect”, the work of Joanna Macy, designing practices for the healing of our world

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