Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Birthday of the Trees

Oh, Mr. Lorax...
Every year on Earth Day, I plan an entire recycle, renew, reuse unit for my first graders. We make a KWL chart gathering what we already know, what we want to know, and making space for what we learned throughout. We do a nonfiction research unit and read about environmental issues and in writing learning how to draft a persuasive letter, which we then send to local and state representatives trying to convince them to care about our environmental cause. One year we sent our letters to Obama and received a generic, yet official reply!  In science, we talk about matter and explore how our knowledge of solid, liquid, and gas can make us more environmentally aware, and in math we do our surveys and representations unit, during which children go around asking important questions they care about like, "Do you always recycle your paper?" and then create bar graphs, pictographs, and other representations of what they learned about their parents, teachers, and peers.

My first poppy sighting!
We then culminate the unit with a student-led service project to beautify our school and/or local community, and often invite our parents for a healthy food Earth Day celebration on April 22nd. Throughout, during read aloud, I highlight the books I love, like "The Giving Tree" and my all time favorite, "The Lorax." For all who have never seen, I highly encourage you to watch the video based on the book. I tear up every time. (Side note- apparently 3D-CGI version is coming out in 2012! I'm so excited!!! However, I will always pledge my allegiance to the original.)

This unit is among one of my favorites because it exposes the children to so many new, important lifelong lessons: environmental awareness, of course, but also community activism, the power of the word, using data to make informed decisions, using information to persuade and make an argument, work together in the community, and so much more. Plus, we get to sing about swomee swans and barbaloots.

But here in Israel the unit I so love takes on a whole new meaning as I cherish yet another singular chance of experiencing the connection between the Jewish holidays and the seasonal cycle in real time. Today is Tu B'shevat, the Jewish Festival of the Trees, and whereas in New York everything is iced and frozen over, here, the almond trees are in full bloom and the poppies are springing up for air throughout the fields. I even red that people were turned away from the nature preserves in the Golan because it was too crowded. Imagine that--an entire country and an entire people celebrating the beauty of nature on this one, unique day. And I got to be a part of it.

To begin with, for the past few days, an incessant children's song we used to sing at Hebrew School has been ringing through my ears. It goes,

Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, b'shevat,
Sure signs of Tu B'shevat
tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, b'shevat,
tu b'shevat, tu b'shevat, tu b'shevat.

(Crouch down and begin slowly rising in the air, hands up high)
You grow, you grow, you grow, you grow! 

(Make tree-like poses)


Back to chorus!