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!

The shuk
Then, there are the trips to the shuk, where almost every stand is overflowing with dried fruits and seasonal nuts, the symbols of the holiday.  At work, there are plates of dried mishmish (apricots), coconut, dates, figs, almonds, and more sprawled on every surface. And then, I got to plant a tree! Yesterday, my friend and I went with a huge group of children to make peanut necklaces for the birds and to plant new seedlings in the thick, clay earthy ground. We took a little hike to see the shkedia, learned about the existence of hundreds of turtles who used to live in the valley and that there were only three left now. Then we took in the blossoming of the almond trees, the beginnings of the pregim, poppies, and then gathered around a bunch of thin little green leafed things and worked our butts off to get them into the ground.

I find it so spiritual and lovely that Judaism has a holiday devoted to the trees. And it's even more amazing to be here for it, breathing in the exact words we sing, and picking the fruit of the earth that naturally springs from the ground exactly at this time, in this most beautiful of lands.

How to plant a tree:

1. Stand proudly with hoe. Pretend that it's not too heavy and the digging is a piece of cake. Whatever you do, don't take your eyes from the prize.

2. Keep digging. Make a determined face. Helps if you purse your lips like I did. The sunglasses also serve a functional purpose of keeping hair out of eyes. You may have to scrape some caked-on mud from the back of the hoe and while you do, the sharp metal attachment might loosen and spin. Pretend that's just part of the game. Yup, just another day's work digging a hole for the tree.

3. Spin around in a circle a little. This will make it look like you're doing a really stand up job. It will make you look strong and like an expert. Just keep spinning around and digging, and hope that the hole will be deep enough. Soon!

4. Just keep digging! It will be over soon! Remember you are doing a special, very important thing. Remember you only have to plant one tree. Dig, dig, dig!

5. Look up with a serious face and say, "hey, hand me that sapling? I have to test the hole." This is actually a clever guise for taking a break, but look contemplative and add a few hmmm's to the mix. It will make it look like you mean business.

6. When you just can't lift the hoe any more, pretend the hole is deep enough, even if it isn't. Say something like, "Yeah, that should cover it!" And then smash the ground around the sapling and shovel over a heap of dirt. It will cover your sapling and make it look real good.

7. Push down the last bit of dirt, stand up, wipe your hands proudly on your jeans like you don't even care you're getting dirt caked all over it.

8. Nod and pose for a picture. Say, "Oh yeah, that little tree is going to do real well, it's in a place with optimum conditions, I can tell." Nod a little more and then walk away quickly before anyone notices that the sapling is tilting a little to the side!

After you are finished, you might want to eat some special Tu B'shevat fruits, like dried apricots and dates. Mmmmmm.

Happy Tu B'shevat, everyone!!!

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