Yesterday, I talked to 135 second graders about treating our forests as our friends. I used the concept of community to make the lesson as familiar as possible for them. For I know that by second grade students are introduced to this in their classes. Communities are successful if everyone works together and does their job. Most second graders have classroom jobs. Hopefully, more than a few have jobs (chores) at home as well.
I talked about the roles or jobs of Forest Producers, which are the trees and plants.
Then, we talked about the Forest Consumers, or those that use what is produced. There are primary and secondary consumers. This got a little confusing for the students but they were soon able to see, after examples were given, that a primary consumer eats the plants and a secondary consumer eats the animals (usually small) are are eating the plants. I tried to draw the word herbivore out of them, but ended up getting vegetarian and vegan. Only after I had them think back to their preschool days of learning about dinosaurs were they able to come up with herbivore. I told them I was proud that they knew so much about human nutrition, as I drew that conclusion from their vocabulary.
We talked about how things are connected and how we, as humans, are connected to the forest! We explored what we, as humans, get from the forest:
- Wood for shelter and paper products
to name a few. I asked them to imagine they were in the forest by listening to a forest sounds recording that was part of my power point. They could either close their eyes and imagine they were in a forest they knew or watch the screen that showed a beautiful forest setting. When I asked what they imagined when listening to the tape, not one of the 135 students said trees! I was shocked! Their answers were enlightening. They all thought of those things that live in a forest habitat – birds, small mammals, a few larger mammals, and one young lady said she could hear her footsteps as she imagined stepping through the leaves on a trail!
Eventually, I asked how the students felt when they were in a forest – for forests have immense benefits for humans, besides the things we often think of, and listed above. Intangible benefits of being in the forest include a sense of peace, being relaxed, and being healthier. These are all part of the gifts of a forest. As humans, we experience lower blood pressure, stress reduction, weight control, and decreased chances of being diagnosed with a chronic illness such as diabetes when time is spent in nature. For if you are hiking forest trails, you are active and surrounded by nature in all its glory!
I wanted students to know how important a forest is for humans. We are lucky to live in a heavily forested state – the last statistic I uncovered, stated that Wisconsin is 46% forested! I encouraged them to be a friend to the forest and talked about what this meant.
It means to treat the forest with respect. It means that when you visit, you leave no trace and you carry out what you have carried in. It means you visit often – don’t you like to see your friends often? The forest is no different. For scientists have confirmed that the more a place, such as the forest, is visited – the more connected one will be to it. And, the more one will want to protect it! I asked them to get out and visit our local forests and suggested some hiking trails they can visit with their families! This school is particularly lucky because they have a school forest and a school forest manager.
She and I spent some time getting to know one another at lunch. We share the same concerns, priorities are not on preserving something as special as a school forest for students but on building bigger stadiums and securing more technology. Those priorities are misguided. For if we provide our students more contact with nature, they will be happier, healthy, and better able to concentrate on their school work, in addition to being more creative.
As I closed my presentation for each group, I told the students I wanted them to share one or two things they learned with the adults in their lives. I asked them to not only be consumers of forest products but think of ways they can replace what they (their families) take. They were reminded of the concepts of recycle, reuse/repurpose, and reduce. Rot was introduced as a necessary part of the forest community. For the rotting logs, covered with lichen, moss, fungi, and other decomposers nourish the soil so new life can spring forth once again.
Planting the seed of environmental stewardship starts early. This is what I did yesterday.