We spark instincts already in kids: the desire to get outside and wander, wonder, dig and climb. Kids are curious and we aim to keep it that way long enough to let them bond with, and gain inspiration from, nature. Einstein knew, “Nature teaches us everything we need to know,” and creatively applying nature’s principles leads to brilliant design and a world of abundance.
Props are good. I like props, so I knew Truck Farm Chicago would work. With a ‘farm-on-wheels’ that lets kids harvest and eat food, it’s easy to engage in conversations about health. I just wasn’t sure the plants would like being on the bumpy road day after day. Well, from the kale to the onions and spinach, to the chard and broccoli, we’re growing food. And yesterday we harvested the first fruit from our strawberry patch. The look on the student’s face after he bit into it was priceless.
P.S. This link takes you to Jamie Oliver’s blog and an article on an innovative school in Chicago, The Academy for Global Citizenship. And Truck Farm gets to visit next week
I have dirt under my fingernails and it feels great. The sun rises higher and our crops grow taller. We visit kids and laugh. Life is good. Check out the latest project- A Green Sugar Press and Seven Generations Ahead collaboration: Truck Farm Chicago.
It’s about engaging kids in conversations on food; how it grows, where it grows and why it matters. From toddlers to teens, our programming runs the gamut, from planting seeds to composting demos, to hands-on history/geography lessons and cooking classes.
Check out more, at our w-i-p website: Truck Farm Chicago
P.S. Including are clips from our visits with NBC, ABC and WGN TV.
P.P.S. Don’t fret, the kale, spinach, strawberries, onions, broccoli, chard, cauliflower, collard greens, radishes and parsley plants have grown far taller than in this picture.
I’ve yet to meet a teacher that believes existing standardized tests are a fully adequate measure of student performance. And I’ve yet to meet a business executive that hires (for careers that pay well) based on how well applicants do at rote memorization and linear thinking.
So, how should we spend time in schools and how do we measure student performance?
I’ve been a big fan of TED talks. TED conferences happen all over the world and the brief talks/presentations are available for free at ted.com. Listening to them while in my car makes me immune to Chicago traffic. Why mention it here? There are a number of TED speakers with great insight into children and education.
Three of my favorite:
- Kiran Bir Sethi- empowering children
- Aimee Mullins – the opportunity of adversity
- Sir Ken Robinson – creativity
I was fortunate to see Sir Ken speak last week with old ski buddy and consultant Dani Stern who runs a Montessori school in Bozeman. We didn’t get any photos with Ken, so here’s one of Dani and I.
Normally, I’m not a huge fan of Mondays. I look at my “Things to Do List” and feel overwhelmed. Well, not today. Sure, my “To Do List” is long and getting longer, but this morning I was lucky enough to meet five inspiring Whitney Young High School students. With Teacher Brian Sievers, they work in a lab at the University of IL, Chicago, creating biodiesel from donated used oil, e.g. soy, canola. Their fuel powers anything that runs on diesel, like the Truck Farm we’ll be introducing next month (and Chicago’s Fresh Moves Mobile Market). The benefits of re-using waste and burning biodiesel are, to start, reducing disposal/landfill fees (saving money) and lowering air pollution (and higher healthcare costs). For more, check out one of their websites.
Not only are they learning about solving problems and making a difference once they graduate, they are doing it today.As a team, utilizing their different strengths, they secured sponsors and donors and, of course, put the system together and got it working. Yes, Brian Sievers, the Whitney Young Teacher, is an expert, but he’s clear about one thing: it’s the kid’s project. He’s there giving his free time and providing support and guidance, but it’s the students who are ‘running the show.’
So, while CBS TV cancelled their appearance and Senator Durbin only sent an aide, it’s neat seeing kids solve real problems and understand that the 21st century is the most exciting time in the world to be alive.
P.S. More to follow on Truck Farm Chicago (whose biodiesel will come from these students). Today was also a good day because Green Teacher, the magazine, gave An Environmental Guide from A to Z, a fantastic review
A line I’ve heard from parents more than once the last few months: “How do I have time to worry about the environment? I’m just trying to love my kids.”
And when the dinner needs to be made, Johnny needs help with homework, the car needs an oil change, Katie’s being bullied, and our company is shipping jobs overseas… then worrying about the environment falls pretty low on the list of “things to do right now.” I understand that.
I also understand that we’re living in crazy times. The 21st century is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be alive. Exciting and scary. Every living system in the world is in decline and that decline is accelerating (Paul Hawken). While we say we care about democracy and jobs and nature (for us and our kids and even other kids), our actions speak more loudly. There are millions around the globe fighting for justice and a future, but the billions that go with the flow (because they are struggling just to keep up) give more power to the status quo. But going with the flow (or as Howard Zinn might say, we can’t be neutral on a moving train) only makes the necessary changes more difficult. So, if we love our kids, we’ll change priorities. We’ll find time to become informed (getting past the ‘sound bytes’), engage in the political process and support transformative change.
Becoming an environmentalist shouldn’t be about adding to your “To-Do” list, but it may change how you spend your time, money and efforts. It may mean less time at the office and more time with your family. It may mean less money on TVs, cars and fast food and more on local and organic food and cooking. It definitely means engaging in the political process to hold business and politicians accountable. Hopefully, it also means working to develop your children’s creative skills (asking for change at schools too, please!).
Loving your kids and doing good ought to be one in the same- and improve your quality of life while giving your kids a world that has a chance.
Love & Peas, Tim.
Is it time to consider the Whole Child? Not long ago, a friend and I were talking about different approaches to education. We, like nearly everyone, agree the current public educational system can do better. But, is the movement to narrow curriculum, increase class time, heap on homework and focus on rote memorization for standardized tests the right answer (as promoted by programs like “Race to the Top”)?
Can we do better than merely try to improve a system created in the 19th century for the needs of the Industrial Revolution? What’s best for the kids? What qualities do we want to encourage? Are there other approaches? Alternatives?
I was good at being a kid, mostly because my parents and grandparents were good at being parents and grandparents. Mom and Dad rarely allowed us kids to watch TV, but they gave us the freedom to wander the neighborhood unchaperoned. Our grandparents provided wild places to roam. I became a world-class frog catcher and a top-notch husker of sweet corn.
After my success as a kid, I spent nearly 20 years playing with kids and becoming an environmentalist. Only a couple years ago I embarked on this more formal journey of “Growing Green Minds.” Perhaps I’m a slow learner (or I was busy having fun), but it took time to come to understand the need, and the benefits, of getting kids hooked on nature. My company, Green Sugar Press, produces entertaining books, but the purpose is greater than publishing books kids love to read. The mission of “Growing Green Minds” comprises two complementary pieces:
We inspire kids to play because unstructured outdoor activity is fun—and good for us. Playtime without purpose—time to wonder, wander, explore, and investigate—is critical for healthy childhood development. A green kid is a dirty kid. As Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, stresses: Nature engages the senses in a way that electronics never will.
Besides happier kids, playtime builds life skills and allows children to bond with the natural world. So along with letting kids be kids, Green Sugar Press works to remind parents and teachers that nature isn’t a nice thing to have—it’s a necessity.
These two quotes represent our philosophy inspiring kids:
* The more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true for human beings. (Henry David Thoreau)
* If we want children to flourish, to truly be empowered, give them a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it. (David Sobel)
A third quote represents the second part of our mission:
* Knowledge without love does not stick; but if love comes first, knowledge is pretty sure to follow. (John Burroughs)
We want kids to grow up understanding how nature works. This doesn’t mean knowing about the regulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or memorizing the periodic table of elements. Rather, we want them to understand nature’s successful evolution over the last billion years or so—the knowledge that nature cycles its own nutrients, runs on current sun energy, favors cooperation over competition, and thrives on diversity.
So, not only is nature fun, but nature also teaches us everything we need to know. And the best way to learn is hands-on and in your own neighborhood. Our first Parent and Teacher Guides contain activities that engage nature nearby, offering ways to learn where we live, who lives with us, and how it works. (Please, no more cookie-cutter Amazon rainforest lessons!)
* Give students something to do, not learn: and when the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, learning naturally results. (John Dewey)
Green Sugar Press tries to give children more credit than they usually receive. Every day I’m blown away by kids’ imaginative and creative capacities. They learn naturally and, with a little modeling, can understand connections and systems. If children love bugs or flowers or the pond down the street or the garden at school, they can learn reading, writing, math, science skills, and even fine arts. Learning about the environment, or Environmental Education, shouldn’t be treated separately or as an “extra—if there’s time.” Incorporated into daily life and throughout the curriculum, it helps foster a love of learning—and evenimproves student achievement.
We explain to kids that the 21st century is the greatest time in the history to be alive. In this rapidly changing world, innovative problem solvers are working to move us past the “take-make-waste” linear system of the industrial revolution.
* We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.(Albert Einstein)
Nature has already solved all the problems Homo sapiens face, so studying and knowing nature gives us a better opportunity to thrive. Being “green” means asking, “What would nature do?” Energy and material startups around the world are modeling their businesses on how nature works. Companies like Patagonia and Interface reap profits and gain market share by treating “waste” as food and using solar energy instead of fossil sun energy.
What does it mean to be a “green” publisher? The first part concerns our content. Green Sugar Press is about children’s books that engage, entertain, and enlighten children with the wonders of nature. The second part of being a green publisher refers to our methods of delivering that content. Today, it’s largely on the printed page, so we talk about the materials we use and the energy we consume. Ideally, using nature as our model, we would use someone else’s waste for our material, produce books using current solar power, deliver the books via bike, and ask the books be composted when they’re worn. Actually, there are a hundred components more than recycled paper to consider, and we’re just now learning what’s involved (partly from leaders like Chelsea Green). It is not good enough to be “less-bad” than publishers who print in Asia with paper from Indonesian rainforests. Our Chicago focus helps (printed and manufactured in Cook County) for when we sell at local stores and when we visit local schools, but we have distributors that ship nationwide. We even accept returns from a major wholesaler (Baker & Taylor) and a couple retailers (e.g. Barnes & Noble). Thinking constantly thinking about the connections, the energy flows and material cycles, enables us to understand where we are and where we need to go.
Moving forward: Green Sugar Press is still in its infancy, so we’ll continue to think like a child: We’ll ask questions, try new things, and absorb all we can. We’ll take chances and grow where it makes sense.
Not only is today an exciting time to be alive and engaged—as we transition past the industrial revolution, against the protests of those who benefit from maintaining the status quo—it’s also a great time to be in the publishing business. The model is changing, with far more now possible. Rather than just being about physical books, Green Sugar Press has to be about delivering content. So, we’re exploring e-books, web-based apps, and even user-generated content or crowdsourcing, potentially with writing contests. Interestingly, all will impact our impact on nature. Lastly, in order to expand our influence, we’re considering transitioning to nonprofit status (501c3) and seeking corporate partners and grants.
Written in Summer 2010.
Tim Magner lives in Chicago. You can usually find him riding his bike, writing in his nature journal, editing stories, or feeding his pet worms. On really good days, he’s with school children exploring the wonders of nature and firing up imaginations. Tim is a contributor to A Fresh Squeeze and a board member of Growing Healthy Kids and The Academy for Global Citizenship Charter School. He’s also author of N is for Nature, Earl the Earthworm, and An Environmental Guide from A to Z. You can follow him on Twitter or become a fan of Green Sugar Press on Facebook.
Read the story at the Chicago Artist Resources site here.
Whenever I visit a school I try to learn as much as possible, always making it a point to ask students how they spend their day. I’m interested for a few reasons, including discovering how much physical activity they get. While my “research” is anecdotal, there’s plenty of evidence (besides our waistlines) that shows we get less exercise than we used to.
And while we might “know” exercise is good for our bodies, and we may even “know” exercise improves our mood, there’s mounting evidence showing exercise as being good for brains, especially young, developing brains. So, when I see kids, parents and teachers push back against reducing gym time, cutting recess, narrowing curriculums, increasing homework loads, I say keep pushing.
Less can be more when it means more time for play and getting our heart rates up. Less homework, less rote learning and fewer organized activities can lead to healthier and more creative kids, who also happen to test better.
Consider checking out Spark, a book on the science of exercise and the brain. Dr. Ratey’s blog at http://johnratey.typepad.com/blog/
See you outside,
P.S. A recent article in Mother Nature Network about a study of high school teens who do better walking to school here.