For the past few weeks, K-2nd grade students in HEART’s Helping Others Club in Chicago have been learning about what companion animals need to be happy and healthy. Students loved learning how – just like people – animals need food, water, shelter, regular visits to the doctor, toys and love. As a culminating activity, students created dioramas that depicted what a happy, healthy home environment looks like.
Using shoeboxes, felt, paper, markers, and magazines, our students constructed everything a dog or cat could need in a home. Through this process they were able to learn more about proper care for their companion animals and educate others on the needs of cats and dogs. Most importantly, students realized that humans and animals are remarkably similar. And therefore, that making sure that an animal’s needs are met is a top priority.
But don’t take our word for it: check out these photos of our students’ dioramas.
This activity and dozens of other interactive lessons about protecting animals will be featured in our Humane Education Resource Guide that is to be released later this year. If you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to receive this free resource guide and other important news from HEART, sign up for our email list here.
Every time we teach children about a humane issue, we hope that they will be moved to share what they have learned with friends and family. After all, the point of humane education is not for the new knowledge to stay stuck inside one classroom, to be forgotten by the next period. We want kids to be moved to act to make the world a better place for all life.
But not all students are comfortable speaking out about the things they care about. That’s why we love building educational campaigns into our programs. It gets students sharing what they have learned, and serves as good practice so that they can keep spreading the word on any given issue.
A great way to do this is to ask older students to educate their younger schoolmates about humane issues. Have you been talking about pollution with 5th graders? Have them visit the classrooms of 3rd graders to talk about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. When students become teachers, they have to get to know the material much more fully so that they can effectively educate others. The students can practice in advance in groups and learn how to distill the most important points to convey the necessary facts. They also learn how to put together a call to action (for example: never litter and always recycle), and work on their public speaking.
Younger students tend to look up to the older kids in their school, making the older students the perfect teachers to inspire young students about humane issues. It also helps the younger kids become more comfortable in their school by meeting and speaking with older students who now become humane role models.
Here at HEART, many of our projects are centered around educating others. Last year at P.S. 36 in NYC, the kids did a unit on contemporary forms of child slavery. Each student researched a different way that children are forced into labor (factories in South Asia and other regions, restavec practices in Haiti, domestic slavery in many parts of the world including the US, child soldiers, cocoa harvesting in West Africa, etc.) and created a poster to educate their classmates about the prevalence of child slavery today. Many of our programs also end in assemblies in front of the entire school so students can present what they have learned to a large audience.
There are so many creative projects that can be done to have kids become the humane educator. Here are just a few ideas:
- Reading and discussing humane books with younger kids
- Traveling from classroom to classroom to educate the younger students on an issue
- Pair up an older student with groups of younger kids to create a humane art project
- Create educational posters to hang up in the hallways
- Ask the students to present to the entire school during an assembly
- Students can gather signatures for a petition and in the process, educate others about the issue
Every single one of us has the power to become a humane educator. Our students, the ones who are learning about humane issues, are the perfect candidates to help teach the younger generations ways to be a better global citizen.
By guest blogger and teacher, Samantha Gentrup
One of my favorite things about being an English/Language Arts (ELA) teacher is that my content area ties to every other content area and I can bring in all sorts of real world topics for my students to read about, research, question, reflect upon, and discuss. Every year I incorporate something I call Make It Real Mondays (MIRM) and these lessons have made a huge impact on my students’ reading and writing abilities as well as on their overall interest in their education. I believe that MIRM are not limited to the ELA classroom, but can also apply to science, social studies, and math. I begin by implementing MIRM in the beginning of the year and continue throughout the year until my students write their major argument writing piece in February. Because of MIRM, by February, my students have a plethora of topics and issues that they’ve learned about, making it very easy for them to choose a topic for their argument writing piece. It also makes their writing that much stronger.
What are MIRM and how do they work? In a nutshell, MIRM occur every Monday and involve humane education lessons. These lessons can involve a reading piece, a video, a guest speaker, an art activity or even a field trip. The lessons focus on issues related to compassion towards oneself, others, animals, and the environment, and each lesson involves a written reflection and sometimes even a mini-debate so that my students can process this new information about real world issues. All notes and reflections are kept in their writer’s journal for them to use when it’s time for the major writing pieces, especially their argument writing piece.
In addition to making my student’s writing better in my classroom, I’ve found that MIRM and humane education almost always tie to what my students are studying in their other content areas as well and my fellow teachers are thrilled that we are talking about their content in another classroom.
The first unit that my students complete is on personal narratives. For this unit, while still incorporating MIRM every Monday, my students read narratives about famous activists throughout history and journal daily to reflect upon the heroes. They then connect these heroes to their own lives and write a personal narrative for their major writing piece of this unit.
The second writing unit is an informational writing piece. For this assignment, my students can use their writer’s journal and select one of the MIRM topics to research and write about.
The third unit is their argument writing piece. Using the information they gathered from the informational assignment, they take a stance on an issue and defend their position while also addressing the opposing viewpoint. These writing pieces tend to be their strongest of the year.
The final unit is a creative writing piece in which my students use the real world topic of their argument writing piece, and turn it into a children’s book. Since they partner up, they get creative when combining their topics. For example, one year I had a pair of students write a children’s book about bullying and rainforest depletion. Another year I had students write about teamwork and saving a tree from being cut down in their neighborhood. For this project, they learn about theme(s), tone, and mood and how to write for a specific audience. They include dialogue and characterization and produce amazing children’s books that they hand deliver to kindergarten and first grade classrooms in our district. This is a powerful way to end the year: sharing a message of humane education via a children’s book and spreading a love for reading and writing from one age group to another.
I believe that every teacher can include humane education into his/her classroom and that can be via Make It Real Mondays and guided writing units, or any other creative avenue. There really are no limits with the right mindset and vision.
Samantha Gentrup is a passionate middle school teacher who believes in the power and necessity of humane education to empower children to positively change the world. She integrates humane education into her daily lessons and shares ideas with her peers through professional development sessions and her Facebook page at Miss G’s Classroom. She hopes to one day open an animal sanctuary and school based on humane education. She is actively engaged in animal rescue and loves to go hiking, backpacking, and kayaking and she also plays sand volleyball and finds joy in spending time with her dog and three cats.
One of the beautiful things about humane education is that it can be taught alongside any subject. English? Write poems from the point of view of a child factory worker. Social Studies? Look at the history of segregation in the USA. Science? Investigate the facts to understand climate change. Any teacher can find a way to bring humane education into their classroom.
If you are already doing that (and you might be since you are on the HEART blog), we have a way for you to make your work with students even stronger. Consider joining forces with some of the other teachers in your school to coordinate your lessons. There is something so powerful about looking at an issue from multiple angles. Let’s take climate change. Imagine that first, the science teacher does a unit on climate change. Then, the English teacher helps the kids do a letter writing campaign asking the government to take action. And finally, the art teacher asks the kids to create educational posters about what people can do to stop our world from warming. And think about what it would be like if all those lessons took place on the same day, or even in the same week.
We all know that students learn information in different ways. Approaching the same topic from more than one perspective allows the children to really get familiar with the material, and enables them to explore it in a way that is comfortable for them. Perhaps you have a student who doesn’t like art, but enjoys writing. Or vice versa. Approaching the issue in this multidisciplinary way gives every student the chance to shine, and increases the chances that this important knowledge will stay with them. It might even make the subjects that are usually less interesting to them more dynamic.
Since the school year has just started, talk to your colleagues and ask them if they plan on covering any humane topics this year. Let them know what you’re planning on doing in your classroom. And then, together, think about how you can work together to complement each other’s lessons.
A wonderful teacher we have worked with in the past got in touch with us with a very interesting question. She wanted to know if we had any suggestions for humane prizes to give to students in the classroom.
She is not alone. When students do great things, many teachers want to acknowledge those stellar skills and give them a reward, many times purchased using cash from the teacher’s own wallet. That means the prize has to be inexpensive and kid friendly. Keeping those criteria in mind, but wanting to also think about items that are humane (eco, animal and human-friendly), we put together a list of fabulous items teachers can give to kids in the classroom. They won’t break the bank and they will help make our planet a safe space for everyone.
1. Recycled Pens or Pencils
These are a nice option because you can buy them in bulk and there are a large variety of options out there like pencils made from newspapers and pens made from recycled plastic.
2. Thrift Store Toys
Thrift stores are fantastic places to find the kinds of little toys and trinkets that are perfect to give as rewards. Head over to the children’s section and see what’s fresh. These items are used (and therefore eco-friendly) and tend to be very inexpensive, sometimes even cheaper than a dollar store.
3. Garage Sale Finds
Children grow up fast. So fast that they only use their toys for short bursts of time before moving on to the next one. As a result, parents are constantly unloading perfectly lovely kids toys at garage sales. Load up in the summer when there are garage sales every weekend and give them out from September through June.
4. Used Humane Books
We all want to inspire kids to read. Thankfully, there is no shortage of used books on the market. The “used” quality makes it a humane choice, but you can go even further. Choose a book with a humane theme like The Lorax or Buddy Unchained. Head to a used bookstore, look online, or for really good deals, see if your library does an annual used book sale. Garage sales and thrift stores sometimes carry books as well.
5. Recycled Notebooks
These tend to get a bit pricier per child, but if you just need a few of something, a recycled notebook can be a great option to teach kids that anything and everything, even their school supplies, can be eco-friendly.
6. Fair Trade Organic Chocolate
We know that sweets do tend to be a popular choice in the classroom. Due to health concerns and to keep things ethical, consider a bar of fair trade organic chocolate. Rather than awarding one kid the entire bar, break off a section for each child to enjoy. This way you are giving out smaller portions (less sugar) and one bar can be used as a prize for a bunch of kids.
Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? We would love to hear them. Leave your thoughts in the comments.