In January of this year, the staff or our NGO Partner Equilibrium (www.earthequilibrium.org) spent two weeks on the Osa Peninsula to teach Environmental Education to local school children. Here is their report.
It’s ten before eight in the morning and it promises to be a hot and sticky day, as usual. Palms of curious and chatty children have been painted shades of green and stamped on paper above and around the trunk of tree, and we are now all sitting on the floor, in a circle, listening to the likes of, “Louis lion, Juliet jellyfish, Adam alligator…..”
That is how we begin to get to know each other, in a circle, repeating our names and an animal that begins with the first letter of our name; everyone must repeat all the names that came before them. We learn quickly! In that circle, we talk a bit about what the days ahead will be like, we go over some basic rules: raise your hand, use an appropriate tone of voice, respect your classmate. Then we head outside and each child has to find for four small rocks; each rock to represent a flower, a mountain, water, and space.
Imagination is already flying, and some might be thinking, “these teachers are a bit on the crazy side!” With big smiles and certainty of tone we reaffirm, “if you’re willing to go with it, we promise a week full of learning and fun!” By the end of that first day, covered in paint, with boisterous excitement about the forests and their critters, the children are convinced it will be a great week, and they simply do not want to go home!
This is our environmental education camp, Learning is Change! We’re learning about our natural world in the most innovative ways possible. Creativity is central, and fun paramount. The goal is to wake children up to the wonders of their natural environment; to inspire awe, to have them thirst to know more, and to lead them to intuitively understand that the natural environment is part of them and must be cared for, always.
We started Learning is Change in July of 2014, with a camp at the Padre Nello School in Granada Nicaragua with the support of Jicaro Island Ecolodge. From August to December we offered the full program – 12 weeks of four hour classes for 5th and 6th grade – in two schools. We began this year with the 5th grade students of the four schools we work with in the villages around Puerto Jimenez. Our plan for this year is to continue with the schools involved last year, add, two more, and include one high school.
Our goal is to keep churning out 5th and 6th graders with a heightened sense of responsibility for stewarding their world. We want every child to have this opportunity, so, parallel to our program we are working on a program that the Ministry of Education could implement across all schools. That is the final aim of our efforts, to have a nationwide environmental education curriculum, an enormous contribution to a country that is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2021 but has yet to implement an environmental education curriculum in its schools.
By day two of camp we have early arrivers, eager to begin, and there is always plenty to do: crossword puzzles to solve, hidden words to discover, books to browse, yesterdays artwork to admire, or what most prefer to do, help the teachers get ready for the day! And so, the days go by, each better than the next, the children more and more engaged, eager to absorb information, eager to participate in games and book work. It’s hard to tell what they like more: is it learning with music, or by painting; listening to a story, or filling out worksheets?
Perhaps what is most remarkable is to watch and listen to these children during our reflection time. After the first day, each day begins sitting in a circle, chosen stone in hand, ready to reflect upon what that stone represents. We begin with the stone that is a flower, and it represents your essence. What is your essence? Who are you? What makes you uniquely you? If you were a flower what would you look like, and why? We talk a bit about these questions and others, and then gentle music begins, eyes close and the mind is put to rest. When minutes have passed (we start with 3 minutes which seem like an eternity and end with 12 which by then seems just like three) each child always has something magnificent to say about what they felt or saw.
Our intention every morning is to reflect a bit about our coexistence. The stones and what they represent open conversations about strength and courage, emotions and feelings, and our freedom. As the days pass, we thread the themes, ending with all stones in our hand, always going inward for the love of self, to then come out and extend that love to the other and our natural world.
Thank you Lapa Rios Ecolodge for collaborating with us (lunches, laundry and rides, and lots of good humor); you helped make these two weeks possible. We trust that we will do this and much more this year!
The Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua support the work of Equilibrium through monetary dontations and logistical support. Environmental education is a very important part of Cayuga’s Sustainability Vision.