Perhaps the most radical thing we can do is to stay home, so we can learn the names of the plants and animals around us; so that we can begin to know what tradition we're part of. -- Terry Tempest Williams
Terry Tempest Williams is a naturalist and an environmental activist. In the quote that opens this session, she talks about learning the names of animals and plants around our homes so we can see how we fit into the "tradition" of all life with which we share the Earth. Typically, however, children's education about nature involves big or exotic creatures such as lions, bears, dinosaurs, or eagles. Films and television programs about nature also emphasize the large, the faraway, and the unusual.
When we explore nature around our homes, we can notice and appreciate the spider living in the attic, the toad under the bush in front of our house, and the house plants we love. These little pieces of nature are where we must stop, look, and listen. In this session, participants will observe the natural world close to them, learning how some animals and plants aid in the functions of our family homes.
The previous session, Session 3: Beehives focused on bees. The beehive's unique gift of community enhances our understanding of both our own family homes and our shared Unitarian Universalist faith home. This session explores other animal homes found in nature including nests, burrows, and dens. Each of these animal homes serves a particular set of functions for its inhabitants. A nest allows a bird to fly to and from home. A burrow allows a chipmunk to collect and save seeds fallen to the ground. Taking the time to observe these homes and discuss their functions will take us on another phase of our journey.
Another important element of this session is the homes we create for animals we use in agriculture. Children often do not understand the connection between their macaroni and cheese and the cow that gave the milk that then became the cheese. In this session, children will learn about human stewardship of farm animals by focusing on the homes we provide for the animals that provide us with food.
Some Unitarian Universalists do not eat animal flesh (vegetarians) or products made by or from animals (vegans). As you explore human relationships with domesticated animals and livestock, be sensitive to children in your group who are being raised with specific eating choices. Think about how you can demonstrate the spirituality humans can find in stewardship for our domesticated animals, in a way that will resonate for and not exclude a child who eats neither meat nor eggs. Such a child may belong to a family where not using animals for food is considered a highly spiritual choice. Use each opportunity as a way to teach, and to learn.
As children explore animal homes in this session, be ready for spontaneous comments as they see parallel functions in their own family homes. Feeding, growing, finding shelter, and resting are all activities that the physical home supports. Children who are already comfortable with the concept of learning from nature will have many observations as you begin to discuss these topics. Be patient, but firm, with those whose excitement spills out in discussion to make sure all have opportunities to participate.
The activities in this session call for you to show children pictures of wild animals and farm animals. Beforehand, gather old magazines such as National Geographic, calendars, and picture books. Visit the websites you will find suggested throughout this session. Download images you want to show the group.
If you are a regular nature lover you will be familiar with the terms in this session. Check out your knowledge of animal homes on the website of the Utah Educational Network . You may be amazed at how much you already know, and equally amazed at how much you have to learn.
This session will:
- Introduce participants to the diversity of animals in our world
- Help participants see parallel functions in animal homes and our family homes
- Guide participants to appreciate that animals and humans share the world
- Understand that wild animals build their own homes for specific functions
- Be able to identify the words "burrow," "den," and "nest"
- Practice appreciation of the natural beauty of wild animals' homes
- Identify farm animals and learn how we, as humans, fulfill our stewardship by creating homes for them to live in
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