A colleague reminded me about a campaign to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in 2010. It included practicing one environmental, earth-friendly personal action every day from Earth Day until May 27th, the birthday of Rachel Carson.
Carson was the 20th-century activist whose book Silent Spring (1962) is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. Another Carson book, A Sense of Wonder, has also inspired many. I have often felt that every Unitarian Universalist child dedication ceremony should include these lines from it, as a blessing: "If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life."
To sense nature’s wonders and become nature’s stewards, children need to have actual experiences in nature. One spokesperson for this idea is Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. In an interview in the March/April 2007 Orion Magazine, Luov cited studies showing that an overwhelming proportion of grown-up conservationists and environmentalists "had some transcendent experience in nature when they were children. For some, the epiphanies took place in a national park; for others, in the clump of trees at the end of the cul-de-sac. But if experiences in nature are radically reduced for future generations, where will stewards of the Earth come from?"
We hope that Unitarian Universalist families and communities will be places from which future stewards of the earth will come, and as religious educators, we have an idea how we can help: Children need experiences out of doors. It is a natural extension of Luov’s premise to say that direct experience in nature is essential to a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development.
The UUA provides resources you can use to inspire and nurture children, youth, and adults on their journey into nature, its wonders, and the stewardship it needs from us. For example:
- UU World magazine's Fall, 2012 Family pages ("All God's Critters... Even the Bat") offer entry points into meaningful connections with wildlife and natural habitats; the Summer, 2010 Family pages highlight musician Pete Seeger's caretaking of the Hudson River with his Clearwater sloop.
- The UUA Green Sanctuary program supports environmental exploration and stewardship in a congregational setting.
- From the UUA Bookstore: Earth Day: An Alphabet Book, a poem of gratitude that celebrates life on earth; Green Devotional: Active Prayers for a Healthy Planet, a collection of 250 voices in quotes, poems, essays, and prayers.
- Tapestry of Faith curricula from the UUA are rich with opportunities to make every day Earth Day. Search “environment,” “nature,” and “outdoors” in the Tapestry of Faith database to locate ecology-focused activities and readings. Browse these resources...
Families as well as religious education groups can try the activities in Citizen Scientist: Be Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard (2012) by Loree Griffin Burns, a UU who is a science writer for children.
Sing to the Power, a Tapestry of Faith program for grades 4/5, uses the natural elements of earth, air, fire, and water as metaphors for the types of personal power we can use to work for the common good. The curriculum offers many activities to visit and explore the outdoors.
The multi-age program Gather the Spirit calls participants to stewardship of the clean, drinkable water all life on Earth requires. See the "Taking It Home" sections of each workshop for hands-on activities to explore the importance of water, inequities in the world's access to clean water, and personal and public actions UU stewards of all ages can take.