Environmental Lesson Planning: Happy Place for My Mind

When we were on vacation recently we met a couple. The woman, a lovely person in her mid-fifties, kept referring to the island of St. John as her happy place. She and her husband had been going to the island to vacation for the last thirty years. In April, her nephew is getting married there.

It started me thinking about my happy place. Physically, I am not sure where that is yet. I’d have to say my home is my happy place; it is where ever my husband and sons happen to be. The USVI, Bermuda, and Hawaii certainly come close. But, there are other places I’ve visited such as Banff, Santa Fe, and our National Parks that would qualify as well.

Places that are wildly beautiful that I can learn about as I visit make me happy. Their beauty appeals to my sense of serenity and awe. Learning about their unique ecosystems, geology, life forms, and histories appeals to my constant need to learn and grow.

For the last nineteen years, I’ve been an environmental educator. The field fits with my sense of awe and appreciation of our natural world. It also fits with my previous field of pediatric nursing – the health of our children. The two fields, while seemingly disparate, are well-fitting compliments to each other. I’ve tried, over the last two decades, to instill awe in children by providing hands-on environmental lessons. These lessons, most held in my own community and those surrounding it, serve to give children a sense of place. And, preparing the lessons, give me a sense of purpose.

Last week, I was asked again to present at an Environmental Day for a school. This has been a regular date in April for me for several years. I’ve presented on forests, monarch conservation, flower bulbs, and spring phenology. The school kept the presentations virtual during the pandemic (when I presented a power point on spring phenology) but they kept the concept the same: learning about our earth and ways we can become better environmental stewards.

Aside from the year I presented to the entire school on forests, I’ve presented to the first-grade classrooms at this elementary school. You might think, “first grade, that’s easy.” Not true! It is very difficult to find content appropriate for first grade. In addition, I believe that it is important not to “scare” the children regarding our current or future environmental problems. It is a sensitive area to provide accurate information but not scare the living daylights out of our youth!

This year, when asked, I told my friend and teacher contact that I wanted to do a different subject. I proposed several ideas for topics. I also had to throw several ideas out due to the complex nature of the subject matter – content changes quite a bit between first grade and third grade. When I ran an afterschool garden club for fifteen years, the students that attended were between second and fifth grade. First grade was out of my realm, for many reasons, not all related to content.

For several days, last Friday through yesterday, I scoured sources I trusted for environmental education ideas for first grade. I came up with a list of topics and let the teachers (six) discuss what they wanted from my presentation.

I was thrilled to get the text that said, the topic most wanted was bats! Bats are in trouble and letting young people know about the trouble they’re experiencing is what I’m good at. After all, I’ve done it for years with monarch conservation presentations. The content this time will re-enforce information about bats as mammals, their habitats, and why they are a species of concern (even threatened or endangered) now.

Coincidentally, when I worked at a local land trust, I organized an event in 2019 involving a bat hibernaculum in our region. I got to work with bat conservationists and scientists, as well as cave specialists. It was a very informative assignment for me. I came away with a new appreciation for bats and their importance to humans.

Yes, I’m in “my happy” place! Having an environmental lesson to plan and give makes me very happy, indeed!

Image by Maria Maltseva from Pixabay

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