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We have been done with our school year for several weeks now but I wanted to make sure that before I fully move on to planning next school year, I took a moment to write about May. In May I attempted to combine my kids for a joint block for the first time, and it was really wonderful.
Last summer I had this idea percolating in my head for a block about environmentalism/conservation. I knew I didn’t want to focus on climate change per se, because that’s a heavy topic for young children, but I did want to address some of the challenges our earth is facing and mostly focus on the people who have taken action to help out. My primary goal for the block was for my children to walk away believing that one person can make a difference in helping to solve a global problem. (If you ever find yourself planning a block yourself I highly recommend thinking about what your goal is for the block – it is so helpful in choosing stories and academic work.) I didn’t need this to be a super academic block because we’d been hitting the books pretty hard all year, so this was about bringing the fun, inspiration and hope.
When I was planning this block last summer I purchased Blossom & Root’s botany resource and was encouraged that several of the “book seeds” that were included were books about environmentalists, so that gave me the encouragement that I was headed in a good direction with my plans. I used bits and pieces of B&R’s book seeds, but honestly not a lot because sometimes I’m terrible at following other people’s plans. (This science resource says it’s for second grade but it can absolutely be used for older children – I think it would be awesome for any elementary-aged child.)
I knew botany was covered in fifth grade, so I planned to cover a more scientific overview of botany last September with my 11-year-old only. For our spring botany block I included my 7-year-old and together we learned about trees and environmentalists. I called the block “trees and their helpers.”
So! Here’s what we did:
Every day we read together from The Tree Book for Kids and their Grownups. The book has an excellent overview in the front of what photosynthesis is, why leaves change color, the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees, etc. I think we spent about a week reading that section. Then later in the block we just picked two or three trees to read about each day. Each tree has a two-page spread and there was a nice mix of trees we would see here in the Pacific Northwest and trees less familiar to us. I asked my fifth grader to pick a favorite tree from each day’s reading and do a main lesson book entry about the tree along with a drawing. This was pretty relaxed writing and I was fine with her just jotting down details rather than writing paragraphs. I didn’t ask my 7-year-old to do anything with these readings other than maybe orally narrate what he found interesting.
Then, we would read a book about an inspiring person. For this, I used a two-day rhythm where we would read the story on day one and then write a main lesson book entry about it on day two. This lets the subject rest and on day two we would discuss what stood out to us from the story. On day two we would also look up a YouTube video of the person if we could find one, or read an additional book about the person. On day one we would often do a more hands-on activity out in our yard or maybe something art-related or maybe do nothing extra because spring.
The books we read were:
- I am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon
- Saving the Countryside and we also enjoyed The Art of Beatrix Potter
- Aani and the Tree Huggers
- The Boy Who Grew a Forest
- John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist
- Wangari’s Trees of Peace and we also read Seeds of Change
- The Tree Lady: The True Story of One Tree-Loving Woman Who Changed a City Forever
- Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World
This block was wonderful for weaving in other topics. We looked on our globe to see where Cameroon and San Diego and India were. We did art projects. We observed trees and did bark rubbings. We talked about the trees in our own yard and whether they were deciduous or evergreen. We learned about urban garden design and designed our own urban gardens. We watched videos of some of these contemporary environmentalists so we could see them speak about their work or see the area they were working to save, as was the case in the short documentary Forest Man or this video about Farmer Tantoh in Cameroon.
Because I was working with two kids at very different writing levels, I decided for our main lesson books to focus on quotes from the people we were learning about. Many of the books contained direct quotes so it just seemed like an easy idea. It was also the very end of our school year and the weather was warm, so nobody was up for long writing sessions at the dining table. It worked out great!
Other tree books we enjoyed during this block:
- Trees: A Rooted History
- The Shaman’s Apprentice: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest
- Drawing Trees
- The Universe is a Tree (this book has amazing tie-ins for ancient history for fifth graders!)
- Science Comics: Trees
- Be a Friend to Trees
- The Tree in the Ancient Forest (these last two are great if you are including younger siblings)
This block was such a joy to teach and both my kids said it was one of their favorite things we did this year.
This block wrapped up our school year and when we finished we left for a trip to the Redwoods! I love connecting what we’re learning about to real-world experience and it was so profound to visit these ancient trees after learning about why trees are so essential for the earth’s well-being. It was a trip we’ll never forget!