Needing Nature

Where have you had what you would consider a spiritual or religious experience? Where have you felt your faith deepen, or felt connected to something larger than yourself?

I know that happened for me during my childhood in nature. Nothing fancy – just local parks, special bushes that formed natural forts, good climbing trees, birds at the birdfeeder in the backyard. We are part of a larger web of existence, and children need to experience that in hands-on ways.

Unfortunately, children are getting less and less time outdoors, and less and less chance to experience and connect to the natural world. As UU’s, this should be part of our Religious Education programs – to get kids outside and really experience the 7th Principle for ourselves: Respect for the interdependent web of life.

We are fortunate at OUUC to have a little slice of woods on our property, and this month we held two Nature Sundays that got the kids into the woods. We used all five of our senses: listening and smelling while blindfolded, looking closely, feeling mysterious objects in feely boxes, and even tasting (wild berry jam). The weather cooperated, and we had a wonderful time exploring.

Find your own place to explore. For more, read:

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, or his new book Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life


Climate Justice Month and You

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Here it comes – Climate Justice Month starts this Sunday, March 22nd, on World Water Day.  We at OUUC will have a climate justice worship service on that first Sunday.

Then, for the month from now until Earth Day, we are all asked to reflect and act together on behalf of our planet and the climate.  With weekly theological themes and action prompts, you can follow along as a family or an individual by signing up at Commit2Respond.  You can also like Commit2Respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Then What?

1.  Read my post from last year about developmentally appropriate environmental education.  Think about how old your kids are and what they are ready for right now.  There is a way to engage all ages with climate justice, but it may look different for different kids.

2.  Take the pledge and work to reduce your household carbon footprint.  There is a good tool available through the Washington State Department of Ecology.

3.  And, because I believe that for us to truly step up to protect the planet we must first love nature and combat “ecophobia” in our culture, just try to get you and your kids outside more!  Consider the idea of “1000 Hours“, or that a child should spend 1000 hours outside during their childhood, and/or read Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder


Cosmic Education

Here’s one of my favorite Symphony of Science videos!

Yesterday I attended the annual Spirit Play conference and got to see a presentation by Jennifer Morgan, the author of the Born with a Bang trilogy of books.  I love these books, and have used them as the spine for a week long Chalice Camp I’ve offered twice for my congregation.  Just meeting an author I admire is exciting enough, but Jennifer was also a very inspirational storyteller and advocate for cosmic education.

What is cosmic education, you ask?  It is an idea that Maria Montessori developed toward the end of her life, to give children the story that science is telling – the context that we exist as a part of an evolving universe.

How does cosmic education fit in with religious education in a Unitarian Universalist context?  Well, for one thing this story of an evolving universe is the story that science is telling us and science, reason, and humanism form one of our Six Sources of inspiration.  And it is an inspiring story, a story that reveals our interconnected relationships not just to all other humans, but to all life on our planet and ultimately to all that forms the universe.  This is a story that calls us to respect all of creation, to see ourselves within a larger context, and to see the big picture of time (which seems to be the foundation of ultimate optimism to me).

I got a great dose of inspiration yesterday, and I am so thrilled that I get to do this work with children!

Developmentally Appropriate Teachings for Earth Day Month

In teaching our 7th Principle (respect the interdependent Web of Life, of which we are a part) to children, I strongly advocate for focusing first on a love of nature before you present the environmental “doom and gloom” aspect of the green movement. Many environmental education advocates, such as Richard Louv, have pointed out the danger of making the environment a scary thing when children also have no sense of attachment to nature, even coining the term “ecophobia” for this phenomenon. I believe that it is absolutely vital for the primary focus of children’s environmental education to emphasize our connection with nature and to simply get kids outdoors and seeing and observing the natural world around them.

Step One: Love Nature and Get Outside! Emphasize pure pleasure, wonder and awe.

Step Two: Recognize the interconnectedness of all life, know about systems and cycles, and see how what happens to one part of the web effects other parts. Emphasize curiosity, fascination, and respect for the amazing system.

But, once you have done that, there are some next steps.

Step Three: Increasingly recognize and understand the dangers and damages to the environment, know their causes, and how humans contribute to those environmental dangers and damages.

Step Four: Demonstrate empowerment to act, alone or with others, to be good stewards of the web of life and to counter environmental dangers and damages.

If you have already done Steps One and Two with your kids, it is time to move on and incorporate Steps Three and Four as well. This month, for Earth Day, consider learning more about Climate Change as a family:

(For Pre-school age kids, I would still stick with Steps One and Two)

Elementary-Age Kids:
1. Read together Why Are the Ice Caps Melting: The Dangers of Global Warming by Anne Rockwell and The Magic School Bus and the Climate Change by Joanna Cole. Your kids may have (probably have!) already heard much of this information, so ask them what they already know or think they know about climate change. Be sure to leave time to discuss any feelings or concerns that come up, too. Many children are very sad for the polar bears, for instance. Others may feel a sort of existential dread that the world is changing and the future could be awful, but not have words to use to express this so just say “it’s scary and sad”.

2. Learn about kids who are making a difference, and talk about them as role-models. Read together Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet by Janet Wilson.

3. Make a family-pledge to make a difference. Pick one, easy enough that you will succeed at it, action that your family can take to either reduce your carbon footprint, advocate for larger societal changes, or make another positive impact of some kind. (Bike to school, plant a tree, etc.)

4. Let other people know about what you’ve done! Write letters to grandparents about it, or post a sign in your front yard, or talk about it on social media such as Facebook.

Middle-School Age Kids:
1. Read together This is My Planet: The Kids’ Guide to Global Warming by Jan Thornhill or The Down-to Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Leave time to discuss any feelings or concerns that come up. For instance, it is quite normal for kids this age to feel more indignant with people who made choices that got us here or with people who don’t believe in climate change. Or, alternatively, kids this age may feel apathetic and despairing that anything can be done.

2. Learn about kids who are making a difference, and talk about them as role-models. Read together Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet by Janet Wilson.

3. Set a challenge or a goal for making a difference. For instance, set a goal of riding bikes for a certain number of your regular trips instead of driving, or of reducing your trash generation to one tiny bag a week. Let others know (especially friends!) about your challenge and see if they will do it too. This can become a fun, gentle, competition and motivate everyone to have fun while making a difference!

High School Age Kids:

1. Watch a climate change documentary together for family movie night. Talk about the ways some people try to deny climate change exists, and what techniques they use for convincing/confusing people. This can be a very useful exercise in critical thinking (for you all).

2. Learn about young people making a difference: The Next Eco Warriors by Emily Hunter profiles 22 young men and women who are saving the planet. Some of their actions may seem drastic, and you may not always agree with their tactics. Discuss that!

3. Take action. Consider the personal/peer challenge as described for Middle School age kids, or look for a way to take on a big project (organizing an “Earth Hour” at school, for instance).


These are just some ways you can explore, celebrate, and advocate our 7th Principle this month!