My friend Kristin Drake is a first grade teacher at McGilvra Elementary School. When she invited me to deliver a global lesson to her public school class of 24 students, I responded with great enthusiasm. I looked forward to being in an elementary classroom in a nearby neighborhood, becoming acquainted with some young learners, and sharing a bit of the world with them.
As I entered the portable classroom behind the main school building, my first impression was of the best kind of chaos — a jumble of books and tables, lots of teaching materials, a corner for sitting together, and art all over the walls. I was heartened to see evidence of some of my childhood favorites: A large Charlotte’s Web made out of yarn with the word “Terrific” on it, Frog and Toad dolls dancing in a corner, and a stack of brilliantly decorated Rainbow Fish art projects. The students were expecting my arrival, greeted me warmly, and eagerly anticipated my actions, since I decided to surprise even my friend with the lesson.
I chose the theme of caring for the earth, which turned out, unbeknownst to me, to be perfectly aligned with a lesson they had just completed concerning what gifts they wanted to give the earth. I began by gathering them in a circle and sharing with them a Thich Nhat Hanh poem I love: “Water flows over these hands; may we use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet.” They liked the poem, and they REALLY liked saying “Thich Nhat Hanh” over and over again! Their answers to a question about about all the different ways to travel amused me (“car, train, airplane, rocketship, scooter, submarine, feet”) and then I reminded them of two other ways: reading and using their imaginations. I showed them how I like to honor the places I’ve been through the jewelry, scarves, and other articles of clothing I wear, circling the places each object came from on a map as we talked. We continued our around the world tour through artifacts I brought from home to pass around, and then some photos from my travels, focusing on the children I met along the way. We discussed how you come to care about things you know about, and how travel expands what you know and therefore what you care about.
The final part of the hour included them creating an art project where they drew some of the things they care about within an outline of the earth, and then traced their own hand, cut it out, and glued it over the earth to show them caring for those favorite things. We titled the work “The World is in Our Hands.” We ended our time together singing a new version of a song I learned as a child, changing the words from “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” to “We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands.” They had the chance to act out parts of the world we hold in our hands, from bunnies to mamas and papas to itty bitty babies. As the bell rang at the end of the hour, we said our thank yous and good-byes, and I could hear them singing the refrain as they filed out to lunch.
My takeaways from the experience:
- You are never too young to become a global citizen.
- Children are capable of meaningful reflection and profound discussion.
- An hour is LONG and needs to contain many different activities with six-year olds!
- There is a lot of love in a first grade classroom.