4-H Earth Connections Curriculum

4-H Earth Connections: Creating Sustainable Communities for the 21st Century!

4-H Earth Connections began within UMaine Extension in the mid-1980s out of a deep and growing concern about the environment and our ability to live sustainably on our planet. Rather than using the conventional youth environmental education model of teaching about nature, Earth Connections teaches that humans are a part of nature; part of the interconnected web of all life.

The overall vision of 4-H Earth Connections is that youth, adults, and families see themselves as part of an interconnected world and are committed to a sustainable future.

4-H Circle of imagesWhile Earth Connections education is rooted in an understanding of biology, ecology, and the social sciences, it is more of a process than a set of well-defined answers. The program leads participants through a journey of discovery and investigation toward a new appreciation of themselves in relation to nature and a vision for sustainably living on earth.

The experiential activities are designed to stimulate sensitivity to the natural world and to one another in community; awareness of the beauty, wonder and complexity of the earth and the interdependence of all its parts, living and non-living; expanded understanding and appreciation of our environment and one another; and a commitment to care for the earth and take action to promote and protect a sustainable lifestyle.

Our staff work directly with teachers and schools to connect the Earth Connections curriculum and activities to the learning standards set by each school district. Building a healthy community is at the core of all programs. Through specialized facilitation activities in social and emotional learning (SEL) students and schools not only get an in-depth, hands-on experiential education experience, they also see modeled and practice positive communication and respect.

The Dimensions of 4-H

4-H Earth Connections is based around the following Four Dimensions, each matched to one of the 4-H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.

1. Social/cultural (HEAD) — Trust is essential for people to work together effectively. Trust comes from getting to know each other and working and playing together in a culture of acceptance, nonviolence and peace. There is no space for put downs, gender stereotyping and bullying. Cultural diversity is recognized as a precious heritage and each culture needs to find its own sustainable pathways. The role that art and music play in sustainable communities can also be explored as part of this dimension.

2. Inner being (HEART) — In this dimension program participants have the opportunity to focus in on the inner part of themselves that connects us with everything in the universe. It may be called inner voice, spirit or being. It is a quiet place in nature and an inner space for reflection and tuning into our senses and feelings.

3. Action/commitment (HANDS) — This dimension provides opportunities for participants to integrate what they have learned into their lives; to begin to manifest the vision each person has for themselves, their family or the larger community. This may involve making individual lifestyle changes, as well as family, school or community actions.

4. Ecosystem (HEALTH) — Spending time exploring nature outdoors near our homes and schools provides a chance to discover our non-human neighbors and the systems and cycles of nature. Time outdoors helps us to know where we live and develops a sense of place. Learning modules are used for different environments such as forests, backyards, ponds, streams, seashore, etc. Exotic places are not necessary. Any outdoor environment will do.

Educational Model

The educational model underlying Earth Connections is sequential, each step building upon the last. While a single activity or program may not progress an individual through all steps in the model, it can create a foundation from which to build in the future. We hope that over time our programs help those who take part form lasting connections with the natural world.

Sensitivity …

to nature using the senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch

Awareness …

of the beauty, wonder, complexity, and interdependence of nature, awareness of the problem and a desire to learn more

Understanding …

the basics of ecology, laws of nature and how the earth works

Appreciation …

of all life and our responsibility to be knowledgeable, caring inhabitants of our planet with a respect for all living things

Commitment …

to adopt a lifestyle promoting the beauty, health and sustainability of our communities

The Laws of Ecology

In the early 1970s, ecologist Barry Commoner wrote The Closing Circle, in which he discussed the rapid growth of industry and technology, and their present effect on all forms of life. He suggested that we could reduce the negative effects by sensitizing, informing, and educating ourselves about our connection to the natural world. Commoner summarized the basics of ecology into what he termed “laws of ecology.” These “laws” help us to recognize and understand the relationships and interdependencies found in ecosystems and communities. These core concepts are integrated throughout all that we do at Tanglewood.

1. I am part of the Environment. Humans are not standing outside the web of life, looking in. We are connected to and dependent upon the environment in which we live. Like other organisms, we have a role to play in ecosystems and communities.

2. Everything is connected (I am part of everything else). All things are interconnected, sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes indirectly. These connections form a “web of life.” Many plants are dependent upon insects for pollination or the dispersal of seeds. The population size of the Canada lynx is directly connected to the population size of its prey, the snowshoe hare.

3. Everything goes somewhere. There is no such place as “away”. Fallen trees or dead animals do not simply disappear. Decomposers such as fungi and bacteria break them down. In the process, their nutrients are released back into the soil to be used again by other plants and animals. However, just as nutrients cycle through an ecosystem, so do toxins and pesticides. They do not disappear after we release them into the environment.

4. Everything changes. Nothing remains constant. Over long periods of time, continents move, and mountains are worn away by wind and water. Over shorter periods of time, the animals and plants within a community change, as an abandoned field becomes a forest.

5. Every action has costs/consequences (there is no free lunch). Everything has a cost and everything has a consequence. For deciduous trees, the benefit of dropping their leaves in the winter is water conservation. The cost, however, is that for that period of time, those trees can no longer photosynthesize and produce energy. Our actions as humans also carry costs. Many recent advances in technology have made our lives better and easier, but these same advances can be expensive both in terms of dollars and environmental stress.

6. The Earth has limits. As the human population has grown, we have come to realize that there is a limit to what we can take from the earth as what we can put back into it. Although there are large amounts of oil, coal, and minerals worldwide, we will eventually use them all. Though wetlands and certain types of soil are able to absorb and neutralize large amounts of toxic materials, there is a limit to what they can handle.

Today we often add a 7th law to the 6 suggested by Commoner.

7. Diversity tends towards stability. Diverse communities are oft better able to cope with external stresses than homogeneous ones. The members of a diverse community are more likely to sustain many interconnected relationships with one another, allowing them to “fall back” on other relationships, such as a food supply, if one relationship is threatened or broken. Parallels can be drawn onto human communities where different skills and personalities work together.

Tanglewood and Blueberry Cove 4-H Camp & Learning Centers are non-profit organizations partnered with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. We provide educational programs in the outdoors that further our mission.

Our Core Values

  • Care and respect for all life and the wise use of natural resources
  • To create and maintain a safe and physically accessible environment at our sites
  • Commitment to create an understanding of ecology and how the earth works
  • Commitment to kindness and respect
  • Commitment to embrace Maine’s 4-H youth philosophy and values
  • Respect for the rights of others to hold, develop and express ideas different from one’s own
  • Commitment to maintain a sound fiscal management system

Our Goals and Philosophies

Tanglewood and Blueberry Cove 4-H Camp and Leaning Centers were created to provide a variety of fun-filled learning experiences for youth. Through these programs, young people develop life-long skills, a sense of community spirit and an awareness of their connection to the natural world.

We strive to develop a caring atmosphere that encourages self-expression and group interaction. Genuine concern for others, personal integrity, and self-confidence are greatly valued. Campers share in decision-making, chores, expectations and lots of fun. The atmosphere is one of community, with each member contributing to its success.

Tanglewood and Blueberry Cove embrace Maine’s 4-H Earth Connections program by nurturing an awareness of the beauty and wonder of the natural world and an understanding of ecology. Our goal is to stimulate young people to become knowledgeable, caring inhabitants of our planet.

Our overarching program goal is to create, live, and teach a model of sustainability. Sustainability in this model includes the physical, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of life in balance. This goal embraces the camps core values and defines who we are.

I am in love with this camp, it was an amazing experience” — camper

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Tanglewood and Blueberry Cove’s relationship as programs of UMaine Cooperative Extension makes us a part of a much larger institution.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is a publicly funded educational network comprising the United States Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, the more than 100 colleges and universities that comprise the nation’s Land-Grant University System and 3,150 counties.

UMaine Cooperative Extension’s Mission is “to help Maine people improve their lives through an educational process that uses research-based knowledge focused on issues and needs”. Our programs help to fulfill this mission.

What we do in 4-H

4-H is a part of our organization’s name and we recite the 4-H pledge each morning, but what does it all mean?

4-H is the youth side of Cooperative Extension, which today has grown to become an international youth organization. There are over 6.5M members aged 5–19, together with thousands of staff and hundreds of thousands of volunteers. 4-H embodies practical “hands-on” learning, backed by the knowledge within Cooperative Extension.

The name “4-H” refers to four dimensions: Head, Hands, Heart, and Health. These represent aspects that are considered throughout 4-H programs.

Core Principles

At the foundation of all Maine 4-H educational programs is:

  • Science, engineering, and technology tied to agriculture, the environment and our communities
  • Healthy lifestyles tied to informed decision-making and action for health and safety
  • Citizenship tied to youth involvement with government and other institutions
  • Sustainable lifestyles and communities tied to ecological literacy and responsible choices

All youth involved in 4-H can expect the opportunity to:

  • Be valued and contributing members of their clubs and communities (belonging)
  • Identify and meet goals for their own hands-on learning (mastery)
  • Take meaningful learning and leadership roles (independence)
  • Engage in community service (generosity)

Volunteers, youth leaders, families and staff can expect the education, training, and support needed to make the vision of Maine 4-H a reality.