Tending to the Earth with Children
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
Issues of creativity lie at the very heart of Christian formation, because to live a life of grace is to live creatively. Christians are not called merely to submit to a set of divine rules, still less to conform to the structures of an unjust society, but to remake the world into God’s kingdom. And this includes caring for the earth as part of the mission of children and youth ministries.
Children make important connections with nature through their senses and through their natural tendencies for close observation. A pot in a window sill or a nighttime sky is equally good as a source for curiosity, mystery, and natural opportunities to wonder together about the meaning of living and dying. Children have natural empathies for small animals and plants. Here is the basis to help them cultivate respect for all life. With companioning adult teachers, from an early age children can learn the care of creation and a reverence for life in all its diversity.
Some simple ways young people can care for creation at home and church:
- Create recycling bins for home AND church, labeling and decorating them for plastic, paper, and glass. Youth can monitor and make sure all church members and organizations that use your building recycle all their trash.
- Organize an Earth Day celebration on the Sunday closest to April 22nd.
- Celebrate Rogation Days by planting trees and flowers on your church property or in a park nearby. Commit to continue to provide care for such plantings by regularly watering and tending them.
- Use poetry and images to create appreciation and wonder for God’s creation by creating murals and posters for the church or for covers of worship bulletins. The Psalms (such as 104, 148, 150) are full of images of God’s creation as are hymns (such as 8, 148, 412, 580 in The Hymnal 1982).
- Learning how to be a steward of the resources that we have, including taking care of pets and our relationships with one another.
Exposing kids to nature not only gives them countless opportunities to learn about the earth, it can help them become better learners, says Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. “When your child is out in nature, she is immersed in something bigger than herself, rather than focusing narrowly on one thing, such as a computer screen,” Louv explains. “Her brain has a chance to rejuvenate, and the next time she has to focus and pay attention, such as in school, she’ll do better.” Louv is also quick to emphasize that being out in nature doesn’t have to mean a visit to a wildlife sanctuary or climbing a mountain, although, chances are, your child would love both those activities. “It’s not about the kind of nature,” he says. “It’s about your child having the opportunity and freedom to explore what’s outside in her surroundings. That can mean a city park, a farm, a patch of woods in a suburb — even a tiny rooftop garden counts.”
The idea of a church community garden is the basis for Episcopal Relief & Development’s new curriculum for children, The Abundant Life Garden Project. This resource is a very flexible, low-cost program that can be implemented by any Episcopal parish, no matter its budget or resources. Its website offers an introduction to the program and five thematic modules on Water, Seeds, Soil, Animals, and Harvest. Two appendices to the lesson modules offer additional options and tips to assist you in creating a program that best fits your parish’s needs. And in keeping with an environmental awareness, all of these lessons are downloadable.
The real key is to talk often with our children about the beauty of the earth, the importance of protecting it, and the promises we make in our Baptismal Covenant. As adults in a faith community, we have a powerful influence in helping our children and youth understand the direct impact they can have in creating a healthier, cleaner environment for the future — starting today.
Although Kermit the Frog may have said, “It’s not easy bein’ green,” it’s really not that hard, if we start small.
Sharon Ely Pearson is the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated and the co-author of The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education, 3rd edition. She blogs at Rows of Sharon (www.rowsofsharon.com) and administers Building Faith (www.buildfaith.org) an online community for Christian formation.
Intergenerational, including Children:
- Faith and Nature: The Divine Adventure of Life on Earth by Phyllis Strupp http://www.churchpublishing.org/faithandnature is an 8-session downloadable intergenerational curriculum that explores nature and humanity as part of God’s creation and is connected to the Millennium Development Goals. (Morehouse Education Resources, 2010)
- ReNew: The Green VBS http://sparkhouseblogs.org/renew/ is a Vacation Bible School program that follows the Parable of the Sower through environmental activities and reflection. (Augsburg Fortress, 2010)
- Old Turtle by Douglas Wood (picture book) offers a view of stewardship of our environment. (Scholastic, 2007)
- Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers (picture book) illustrates the statement given by Chief Seattle on our responsibility to care for God’s creation. (Dial, 1991)
High School, Young Adult, and Adult:
- Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective edited by Michael Schut offers a compilation of essays on stewardship of our world and ourselves with an extensive study guide included. (Morehouse Publishing, 2009)
- To Serve and Guard the Earth by Beth Bojarskihttp://www.churchpublishing.org/toserveandguardtheearth is a 6-session, downloadable curriculum for high school youth and adults that reflects on the seven days of creation and our Baptismal Covenant. (Morehouse Education Resources, 2010)
- Sustainable Faith: God, the Environment, and Human Responsibilityhttp://tinyurl.com/4va6mb4 is based on Krista Tippett’s “on Being,” allowing reflection in small groups on themes regarding caring for creation. (Morehouse Education Resources, 2010)
- How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take To Change A Christian? A Pocket Guide to Shrinking Your Ecological Footprint by Jan Nunley, Claire Foster, and David Shreeve is a simple book of action steps for individuals, churches, and families. (Seabury, 2008)
- Interreligious Eco-Justice Network http://www.irejn.org/
- National Council of Churches of Christ Eco-Justice Programs http://nccecojustice.org/
- Earth Ministry http://earthministry.org/
- Episcopal Ecological Network http://www.eenonline.org/
- The National Religious Partnership for the Environment http://www.nrpe.org/
- Web of Creation http://www.webofcreation.org/
- The Earth Charter http://www.earthcharterus.org/
- Episcopal Relief & Development’s Formation resources pages http://www.er-d.org/Formation/