Earth Day 2019: Creative Nature Appreciation

In celebration of Earth Day, we’re sharing six activities that combine creative expression with nature appreciation that are appropriate for a range of ages and abilities. In addition to being fun, each activity has different social, emotional and cognitive benefits which are identified following each description.

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Movement

Yoga Tree Pose, from Flow & Grow Kids Yoga, is a great activity for younger kids and teens. “Tall, grounded and strong – the mighty Tree benefits our world in many ways. The tree is kind to the world, animals and to humans. Through this pose, it is great to teach kids about kindness – how to be kind to others and to the environment. The Tree Pose reminds us that as our roots grow stronger, we are able to stand tall and stretch our branches to the sky.” After trying this pose, try reflecting with the following questions:

How are trees kind to the world?
How can humans be more kind to the earth?
How did it feel to stand like a tree?
When do you feel strong?  What can you do better when you feel strong?

Check out the full activity at Flow & Grow Kids Yoga.

Goals:
SOCIAL – Understanding the Impact of Actions on Others
EMOTIONAL – Self-Awareness
COGNITIVE – Sustaining Focus

Art

Creating nature mandalas “enhance our sense of responsibility toward, and connection to, the earth,” according to Ellen Speert of the California Center for Creative Renewal, Asia Society defines mandalas as “Buddhist devotional images often deemed a diagram or symbol of an ideal universe”. They can be large, small, simple, or intricate and are the perfect activity for individuals or groups of any age. To start, walk around your home, neighborhood, or nearby park and collect small pieces of nature. Remember not to pick fresh flowers or remove a leaf from the tree—It’s important to respect nature by collecting only things that are already dead (e.g., fallen leaves).

Create your mandala by starting with one object in the center then place a series of repeating patterns around it. You can create the mandala individually or with a group. When you’re done, collect your natural objects and return them back to nature. Try reflecting on this experience by asking:

What natural objects were you most drawn to?
How did it feel to create art with natural objects?
What surprised you while creating the mandala?

Goals:
SOCIAL – Connecting through Shared Experience
EMOTIONAL – Being in the Present Moment
COGNITIVE – Attention to Detail

Learn more about the rich history of mandalas by visiting Asia Society’s website HERE.
Check out the website of artist Louise Gale to see examples of nature mandalas.

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Mandala created by Ellen Speert of California Center for Creative Renewal

Guided Visualization

Try this guided visualization script from Stanford Medicine for a grounding moment and change of perspective with older youth or adults. Find a quiet place, encourage the individual, or group, to sit or lay down in a comfortable position, play calming music (e.g.,  Brian Eno), and calmly read through the script. When finished, allow your group to slowly open their eyes and reflect on the following questions:

How do you feel after listening to the guided visualization?
What did you imagine in your tree or canopy?

Goals:
SOCIAL – Other-Perspective Taking
EMOTIONAL – Stress Management
COGNITIVE – Integrate Sensory Stimuli

Music & Sound

The next activity is great for individuals and groups from young children to older adults. Visit a park, go on a hike, or simply step outside and listen. What sounds do you hear? Collect a piece of paper, a hard surface like a clipboard, and a pen or marker. Close your eyes and draw a continuous line in response to the sounds you hear. Allow your line to respond to the softness of the breeze or the loud surprise of a siren – see our example below. Try setting a timer for one minute to three minutes and see what different drawings you create! When done, reflect on these questions:

What kind of sounds did you hear and what type of lines did they create?
How did it feel to sit and listen to nature?
Did you hear anything surprising?

Goals:
SOCIAL – Listening / Sharing
EMOTIONAL – Being in the Present Moment
COGNITIVE – Sustaining Focus

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Drama

It wouldn’t be a proper Earth Day without reading The Giving Tree, the classic book by Shel Silverstein. This activity is appropriate for children and teens. Start by assigning the two roles: the boy and the tree. Act out each interaction and encourage the actors to physically embody the characters as they change throughout the story. If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can watch it on YouTube. To reflect on this story, check out these reflection questions from Teaching Children’s Philosophy.

Goals:
SOCIAL – Communication Skills
EMOTIONAL – Identifying and Labeling Feelings
COGNITIVE – Understanding New Concepts

Writing

Acclaimed poet Mary Oliver said that “to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Children to older adults can use this activity to explore poetry as a modality to pay attention to our natural world. Try writing a haiku, a simple three-line poem, in response to the following prompt:

Line 1 (5 syllables): Describe something you see in nature.
Line 2 (7 syllables): Describe something you smell in nature.
Line 3 (5 syllables): A question, how nature makes you feel, or an opinion.

Example:
Plants along the road
Gas exhaust and spring pollen
Can the flowers breathe?

Reflect on this activity by asking the following:

How easy or difficult was it to write this poem?
What do you enjoy or not enjoy about the haiku format?
What does your poem make you think of?

Goals:
SOCIAL – Communication Skills
EMOTIONAL – Developing Mastery (of Syllables)
COGNITIVE – Breaking Down Large Tasks

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Going to try one of these activities? We want to hear about your experience! Tag us on Twitter, FaceBook or Instagram!