Introduction to Earth Connections

Connections to Our Earth — What is it?

Connections to Our Earth, consisting of a Leader’s Guide and set of Activity Cards, is part of 4-H Earth Connections, University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s environmental education program for youth. Using hands-on activities in outdoor settings, Connections to Our Earth will carry you, and young people you work with, into the heart of the natural world. You won’t need plane tickets, fancy equipment or tour guides for the journey you’re about to take. It’s all at your doorstep! You need go no further than your backyard, school ground or a local park. Nature surrounds you at every turn. From a drop of water to the Atlantic Ocean, from a tiny violet to the majestic white pine, from a grain of sand to the mighty Katahdin, all are ours to behold if we choose to see, listen, smell, taste and touch.

Why Should We Be Concerned?

Throughout Maine, the United States and the world, people depend on Earth’s natural resources for food, shelter, energy, employment, recreation, enjoyment and spiritual renewal. These resources are sunlight, air, water, soil, plants, animals, and people. These are the components of all the ecosystems on Earth, from coastal waters to mountain tops, from tropical rain forests to deserts, and they are all interconnected. For centuries, Native Americans have spoken eloquently on their natural connection to the Earth. One famous saying states, “He who harms his mother, harms himself.” The challenge of Connections to Our Earth is to rediscover our links with the natural world, and encourage responsible action in caring for the environment.

You Can Teach In The Outdoors

Do you feel uncomfortable teaching in the outdoors? If you do, you are not alone. Parents and teachers often feel that they do not know enough about the natural world to teach about it. Even such experts as biologists, foresters and geologists sometimes have trouble teaching young children about the outdoors.

Introducing youngsters to the natural world isn’t difficult. In fact, it can be lots of fun! Connections to Our Earth will show you how to help curious, inquisitive, wondering young minds discover the magic of nature.

What Will Connections to Our Earth Do for Kids?

The mission of the 4-H Earth Connections program is to help young people:

  • understand and examine their role in the interconnected web of life; and
  • understand the need to conserve and protect the Earth’s natural resources.

Connections to Our Earth is one step on the way toward that understanding. The Leader’s Guide and Activity Cards offer opportunities for youth and adults to:

  • make personal discoveries about the environment;
  • develop life skills that emphasize decision making and problem solving; and
  • discover recreational, vocational and avocational activities that bring life-long pleasure.

What Is The Connections To Our Earth Approach?

The Connections to Our Earth approach is based on a child’s natural learning process. This is a series of steps that begins with sensitivity and awareness, progresses to understanding and appreciation, and finally reaches commitment and action. Let’s look at each of these stages and how they relate to this program.

Sensitivity and Awareness

Most kids enjoy activities that allow them to taste, smell and touch, as well as see and hear. You can capture their interest and imagination by giving them the opportunity to discover and touch creatures in a tidal pool, explore a bog, and look for mysterious smells and sounds, or search the forest floor for the homes of wild things.

The idea is to develop a sense of wonder and awareness, rather than worrying about the names of all the plants and animals you find. As Rachel Carson said, “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. … It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate. ”

Understanding and Appreciation

As understanding grows, the child becomes more enthusiastic and develops an appreciation for new ideas and concepts. Let’s look at an example. Many of us are afraid of snakes. However, if you allow children to hold a harmless snake, such as a garter snake or ringneck snake, they will begin to discover new things about snakes. Was it slimy, as they might have expected? Could they feel the snake’s muscles move? With this new knowledge, they may begin to appreciate snakes and fear them less.

Commitment and Action

When kids understand and appreciate the world around them, they develop positive values and attitudes toward nature. They begin to commit themselves to caring for the Earth.

Actions to conserve, protect and improve the Earth’s natural resources can be many and varied, from protecting wetlands from development, to reducing waste and increasing recycling, to putting up bird nesting boxes. In addition to Connections to Our Earth, Maine 4-H offers other programs in natural resource conservation. Ask your county Extension educator for information about Tanglewood 4-H Camp, the Adopt-A-Road project, beach clean-ups, composting and other programs.

What Does Connections To Our Earth Provide Leaders?

Connections to Our Earth uses two types of support materials — a Leader’s Guide and a set of Activity Cards.

The Leader’s Guide

The Leader’s Guide will provide you with some background information and ideas to help you teach youth about their connections to the Earth’s ecosystems. There are three parts to the Guide:

Chapter 1 explains how to teach in the outdoors. Give it a try — it gets easier each time, and you will learn right along with the children.

Chapters 2 and 3 explain the ecology of ecosystems and the basic “laws” of ecology.

Appendices provide extra information to help you conduct successful activities and direct you to additional sources of information and materials.

Activity Cards

The Cards describe fun, hands-on activities that will help youth, and you, learn about the environment in outdoor settings. Each Card tells you everything you need to know to successfully conduct the activity. Paralleling the child’s natural learning sequence, Activities focus on sensory awareness, understanding and appreciation and commitment and action.

Being a Good Leader

You have the power to affect how children view nature. Your motivation, interest, and enthusiasm will rub off on them. Don’t worry if you don’t know the names of animals, plants or trees. The kids will respect your honesty if you say you don’t know, and they will have fun working with you to learn the answers.

The kids will notice how you respond to the outdoors and will see your attitude toward the environment. They will watch the respect with which you handle a toad, the gentleness with which you show them a flower and the calmness with which you hold snake.

Your actions speak louder than words. Think about the unspoken messages you send when you talk about a reverence for life and then take care not to squash a bug or break tree branches, or quietly pick up litter from along the trail as you conduct a nature hike.

Welcome To Connections To Our Earth

We welcome you to Connections to Our Earth and the wonderful world of nature.

Let the kid in you emerge. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Be ready to explore the woods, wade into marshes and play hide-and-seek in the tall grass. Nurture your own feelings of wonder and awe.

Teaching kids in the outdoors is an adventure full of exploration and discovery. Your challenge is to provide youngsters with learning opportunities that reveal the magic of the natural world.

We have provided you with some tips, activities and teaching tools to start you on your way.

Good luck. Smile. And have fun!