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Keepers of The Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children | Excerpt

By Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac


If this book were an animal, the stories would be its skeleton and the related activities would be the flesh and sinew on those bones. And you parent, teacher, naturalist or storyteller provide the skin, fur and movement, the touches of imagination, magic and mystery that bring the stories and lessons to life. This is a book about living, learning and caring: a collection of carefully chosen North American Indian stories and hands-on activities that promote understanding and appreciation of, empathy for, and responsible action toward the Earth, I including its people. These are valuable tools for those who want to inspire children and help them to feel a part of their surroundings. When the stories and activities in this book and its companion teacher's guide are followed carefully as children progress from kindergarten through the primary grades, roughly ages five through twelve years, they provide a complete program of study in the important concepts and topics of ecology and natural history.

Tell children a story and they listen with their whole beings. Lead children to touch and understand a grasshopper, a rock, a flower, a ray of sunlight and you begin to establish connections between children and their surroundings. Have them look at a tree feel it, smell it, taste its sap, study its many parts and how they work.

Help them to understand how it is part of a forest community of plants, animals, rocks, soil and water. Visit places where people have affected the forest to help children appreciate their stewardship role in the world; how all things are intertwined. Keep the children at the center of their learning encounters. Build on these experiences with activities that help them to care for, and take care of, the Earth and other people to develop a conservation ethic. Dine (Navajo) tradition tells us that this Earth is destined to be destroyed unless people live in the right way.

As the stories unfold and you help the children to bring the activities to life, a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to teaching about the Earth and Native American cultures begins. With their close ties to the land, American Indian cultures are a vital link between human society and nature. The story characters are voices through which the wisdom of American Indians speaks in today's language, fostering listening and reading skills and enhancing understanding of how the native people live close to the land. Each story is a natural teaching tool which becomes a springboard as you dive into the activities designed to provoke curiosity among children and which facilitate discovery of their environments and the influence they have on those surroundings. These activities are pedagogically sound and extensively field-tested. They involve the students in creative arts, theater, reading, writing, science, social studies, mathematics, sensory awareness and more. The activities engage a child's whole self: emotions, senses, thoughts and actions. They emphasize creative thinking and synthesis of knowledge and experiences. Because of the active and involving nature of the experiences found in this book, children who have special needs physically, mentally and emotionally respond well with proper care and skilled instruction.

These stories and activities have been enjoyed by families and in camp settings, nature centers, environmental education programs, public and private schools, library story hours, and in both rural and urban settings.

Churches and other spiritual groups have found American Indian traditions to be an inspiration for developing environmental stewardship and deeper ties with the Earth as part of creation. While the stories and activities arise from North America, with some adaptations for local conditions they are relevant and useful to people and places in other lands as well.

Because Indians see themselves as part of nature, and not apart from it, their stories use natural images to teach both about relationships between people, and between people and the Earth. To the Indians, what was done to a tree or rock was done to a brother or sister.

This outlook has important implications throughout this book where it deals with environmental problems and solutions.

Native Americans emphasize a close relationship with nature versus control over the natural world. In many stories the lessons are taught both directly and through metaphors. A good example of this is the story,

"The Coming of Corn" in Chapter 16. The relationship between the Boy and his Grandmother personifies the relationship between the planter and the crop.

Excerpted from Keepers of The Earth by Michael J. Caduto, Joseph Bruchac

Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.

All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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