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  • Wednesday, October 25, 2023 9:07 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    By: McCadden, ERAFANS Online Course Facilitator

    At this time of year, consider holding some form of Ancestors Celebration with the families of your students, or even the wider community. Here are a few ideas from regenerative culture design mentors Honey Sweet Harmony:

    Invite families to send in photos or other items that remind them of those who have gone before, and create an artistic Honoring Our Ancestors display in the (indoor or outdoor) classroom space. Fabric, shells, sticks, leaves, nuts, bones, feathers, flowers and anything else the participants gather with consent from and gratitude to nature can add to the decorations. Candles (in canning or baby food jars for safety) can be a beautiful addition. Make sure the personal items are name-labeled and appropriate to be exposed to the hazards of weather and handling (eg. photocopies of original photos).

    • Small scale event: gather in a circle and sing some songs honoring the ancestors. Invite family members to come participate. Leave one space open in the circle for the Ancestors. 

    Here is our Honoring the Ancestors Song Grove with many songs that are easy for a group to learn without needing prior practice, printed lyrics, or sheet music.

    • If you’re ready to try out a larger scale event: hold a community/class Ancestors Feast in which food from the participants’ ancestral heritage, or food loved by someone dear who has died, is shared with everyone, and an Ancestors’ Plate and Cup are given a dollop of each dish or beverage. Create an Ancestors’ Chair decorated with special items gathered from nature, and a Storytellers’ Chair for anyone who wishes to sit and tell a story about the food and ancestor before passing it around for those who would like to sample. It's important to ask that the recipe for each dish be written up and provided along with separate serving utensils, to allow for any dietary restrictions. Songs, music, poetry, and dancing also add to the whole experience. At the end, send the food and drink from the Ancestors’ Plate and Cup onward via your fire pit or compost pile.

    Remembering those who have gone before can naturally bring up tender feelings, and we encourage extra gentleness with oneself and others when engaging in these ancestor-honoring practices.

    Please see Part 1 of this blog post for more about the histories of Allhallowtide and Día de los Muertos.

  • Wednesday, October 25, 2023 8:56 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    By: McCadden, ERAFANS Online Course Facilitator

    When we connect with our ancestors and put their wisdom into action, we are evolving our collective consciousness. We are transporting the ancient truths of our collective past and birthing them into our future. What we create out of those truths extends the wisdom of all those who have gone before us, and it provides a guide for all those who will follow.

    Sherri Mitchell Weh'na Ha'mu Kwasset, Penobscot Nation

    As the warm season in the northern hemisphere comes to completion and the cold season begins, many cultures have traditions honoring those who have gone before. We have compiled a new Song Grove to inspire your ancestors’ celebrations. 

    Some say Halloween’s roots come from the Gaelic holiday of Samhain (“summer’s end), when the completion of the harvest was celebrated with feasting, dance, and bonfires in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Samhain is a threshold festival, when it’s said the boundary grows thin between this world and the Otherworld. Humans would offer food and drink to the aos sí ('spirits' or 'fairies') to ensure the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of deceased relatives were also thought to revisit their homes, and a place was set at the table and the hearth for them.

    By the 11th century, a three-day observance known as Allhallowtide was established in Christian Europe: All Hallows' Eve (31 October), All Hallows' Day (1 November), and All Souls' Day (2 November). All Hallows’ Eve eventually evolved to be Halloween. Irish and Scottish immigrants brought their Halloween traditions to North America/Turtle Island in the 19th century.

    Día de los Muertos began in Mexico as a combination of traditions. The Aztecs and other Nahua people in what is now central Mexico understood death as an integral, ever-present part of life in a cyclical Universe. Family provided food, water, and tools to help the souls of the dead in the difficult journey to Mictlán, the final resting place. In medieval Spain, people would decorate the graves of their dearly departed with flowers on All Souls’ Day; they would also light candles to illuminate the dead souls’ way back to their earthly homes, and bring wine and pan de ánimas (spirit bread) to their graves. These inspired the contemporary Day of the Dead practices in which people leave offerings such as food on graves, or place them on makeshift altars called ofrendas in their homes. 

    By the late 20th century, both Halloween and Día de los Muertos holiday traditions spread globally through human diaspora and transgeographic media such as music and films.

    See this blog post’s Part 2 for suggestions of activities to honor the ancestors in your community.

    Sources for additional details about these holidays:

    History of Samhain

    History of Halloween

    Halloween Around the World

    Day of the Dead

    Day of the Dead Origins

  • Monday, September 18, 2023 8:38 AM | Taylor Donaldson (Administrator)

    Exploring Circles in Autumn

    By: McCadden, ERAFANS Online Course Facilitator

    With the new school year beginning, it’s a natural time to introduce some new songs to your repertoire! Our latest ERAFANS Song Grove is a collection of songs sharing the theme of signs of autumn in nature and within ourselves, including some selections related to the Autumn Equinox. 

    Here are some additional activities you might enjoy this season: 

    • Reflect together on circles you observe in nature - from the Earth and Sun whose dance creates the Equinoxes, to the cycle of life and death as embodied in tree leaves. Then going out on the land, invite children to gather leaves, nuts, twigs, feathers, etc. From these create mandalas (from the Sanskrit मण्डल pronounced mun-duh-luh, this literally translates as “circle”), whether symmetrical or not. This can be a solo, pair, trio, or larger group activity, depending on the children’s developmental level.  

    • In conversation and/or song, reflect on the impermanence of these mandalas, how wind or rain or creatures will help the elements of the mandala continue their journeys to new places on the land and in the water. With older children, you might mention that particular cultural traditions invite humans to embrace the ephemeral nature of experience by creating particularly transient mandalas, such as Tibetan Buddhist mandalas made of colored sand, which upon completion are swept away and dispersed into flowing water.

    • A group mandala of such “nature allies” can be a wonderful way to set intentions for the season to come - creating the mandala on the earth together, then standing in a circle and taking turns to speak about what “nature ally” each person contributed to the mandala, what they’d like to contribute to the group this season, and what they’d like to receive from the group.

    • Seasonal intention setting can also be invited for solo mandalas, if age-appropriate.

    • As temperatures begin to fall, all sorts of trees, plants, animals, insects, fungi…everyone’s preparing for the cold season! Invite the children to begin to observe changes in your program/class’s nature neighborhood, and at home. 

    • Bring out field guides to compare with their observations, not only for the purpose of species ID, but to begin to consider how else they might make their observations (eg. shapes, colors, sizes).

    • Facilitate a regularly recurring sharing circle in which they can report their observations. 

    • Invite children to create nature journals inspired by their observations - these can include color swatches and sketches by any age level, in addition to written words by older children.

    • In coyote-mentoring style, mentors can gently introduce some additional understanding about the processes children are witnessing by starting with questions to stoke their curiosity, rather than providing informational answers for them to absorb. Eg. Why do you think… the leaves change color? they get brown and dry? they fall off the trees? the pine needles don’t fall? some birds flying south? other birds are staying here through the winter? we are finding piles of nuts? the nuts are in those places?...” etc. In this style of mentoring the emphasis is not on arriving at a correct answer, but on wandering together through curiosity and possibilities. 

    • Find more ideas for autumnal activities on the ERAFANS Pinterest.

    Do you have other favorite autumn activities or songs? We’d love to hear from you! Email to tell us about them.
  • Monday, August 28, 2023 8:45 AM | Taylor Donaldson (Administrator)

    By: McCadden, ERAFANS Online Course Facilitator

    As we move through the summer season, we offer this Song Book celebrating the Sun! These may be sung to children, or with them, depending on the group. Some can be sung as rounds or simply as single harmonies together, and some can go well with craft making or dancing. We’ve suggested specific activity ideas that pair well with some of the songs. 

    Many community song leaders tell the origin story of the song, and/or how the song came into their own life, before teaching the song. With this in mind, whenever possible we’ve included something of each song’s “roots story.”

    If you have any song suggestions to add to our collection on this theme, or can share more that deepens a song’s roots story, we’d love to hear from you! You can share your thoughts via email with the subject line “Song Share”.

    We can also acknowledge our appreciation for the sun by inviting everyone to share reflections on the gifts that the sun brings to us. While warmth and light are likely to be among the first responses, you could invite deepening the conversation by considering who specifically benefits from and passes along the blessings of the sun’s warmth and light, (eg. particular flora or fauna where you are), and how (eg. which particular local reptiles soak in external heat thru sunshine or sun-warmed rocks; who benefits when sunlight diminishes mold and mildew; which local trees and plants transform sunlight into nourishment for themselves and which other local species through photosynthesis and is it different in flat leaves vs needles, how white pine needle tea has high Vitamin C good for humans, etc.).

    Here are more sun related songs, books and articles you might enjoy exploring, as well!

    Summer Songs for Young Chilidren Playlist by Dany Rosevear

    Children's book about the sun. 

    Children's article about the sun. 

    Explore the sun with NASA!

  • Thursday, April 13, 2023 3:36 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Written by: McCadden, ERAFANS Online Facilitator

    “We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.”  — Maya Angelou

    Earth Day is an annual celebration honoring the achievements of the environmental movement and raising awareness of the need to protect the Earth for future generations.  In the US, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, and throughout the rest of the world on either April 22 or the Spring Equinox.

    The first Earth Day was organized on April 22, 1970, and was attended by 20 million people across the US, strengthening support for legislation such as the Clean Air Act (updated in 1970) and the Endangered Species Act (1973). In 1990, a global Earth Day was organized, with more than 200 million participants in more than 140 countries.

    Nowadays, the Earth Day Network brings together more than 20,000 partners and organizations in 190 countries and supports the Earth Day mission year-round. This mission is founded on the premise that all people, regardless of race, gender, income, or geography, have a right to a healthy, sustainable environment. Bringing together more than 1 billion participants every year makes it one of the largest public, secular events in the world.

    How can you learn more and get involved?

    Take a look at the official website full of ways to get involved!

    The EPA website offers more about Earth Day’s history, plus ideas for educators. 

    ERAFANS is happy to offer our latest Song Grove (PDF) with a focus on songs honoring our connections to the Earth. If you have a song sapling favorite that’s not included, please email us (subject: Song Share). 

    Celebrate Earth Day, Every Day!

    Some simple ways to celebrate Earth Day with children (even if not on April 22) could include holding a community gathering or class event:

    • Naming aspects of our nature neighborhood that we appreciate

    • Singing songs

    • Dancing (especially circle dances!) 

    • Telling stories about meaningful experiences we’ve had in nature

    • Planting trees or plants, dedicated to the future generations

    • Creating a community garden

    • Litter cleanup at your school, program location, a local park, or waterway

    • Feasting together on a potluck meal or snacks after any of the above

    • Inviting families to experiment with using no electric lights on Saturday April 22, and catching the stories of the children’s experiences when they return to your class/program.

    We would love to hear more about how you celebrate Earth Day in the comments!

  • Tuesday, March 21, 2023 6:50 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    By McCadden, ERAFANS Online Facilitator

    “As Spring rain softens the Earth with surprise

    May your Winter places be kissed by light.

    As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance

    May the grace of change bring you elegance.

    As day anchors a tree in light and wind

    May your outer life grow from peace within.

    As twilight fills night with bright horizons

    May Beauty await you at home beyond.”

    ~ John O’Donohue 

    As Spring arrives in the North Hemisphere, many of us hear an inner stirring to go outside and dig our fingers (and maybe toes!) into the dirt, even as a final few snowfalls might yet visit us.  The birds’ songs increasingly become a part of our soundscapes, their migrations a part of our skyscapes. Furry critters who have been dozing or staying tucked snug in underground dens and burrows, or beneath a blanket of snow are starting to come out for the first few bites of fresh greens, preparing to bring their babies into the world.

    Being in a mentoring relationship with children at this time of year brings adults the gift of seeing this rebirth of the land and waters through their “beginner’s mind” eyes. What have we been taking for granted in our nature neighborhoods that we can pause to admire in awe? What bubbles of curiosity and excitement are coming to the surface of the children’s flow of play and learning in your group this spring?  What activities have you introduced or will you try this spring to plant those seeds of wonder in rich soil and nurture them into sprouts? Do you practice any particular form of celebration to welcome Spring together? How do you mentor children in being care-givers to their nature-family members, especially mindful of newborns and juveniles of other species? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments! 

    Enjoy our latest Song Book filled with simple easy to learn and teach songs to welcome and revel through the Springtime. If you have any song sapling suggestions to add to our collection on this theme, we’d love to hear from you! Please share them via email with the subject line “Song Share.”

    The How Tall is My Shadow? game is a great hands-on activity for understanding the seasons!  At about noon on each equinox and solstice (or on the closest sunny day when you’re together), measure from each child’s toe to their shadow’s top.  Have the children measure your shadow, too, and record the numbers. After gathering data on these solar holidays, you can ask the children to guess which shadow was longest, compare the shadows’ changing heights with your own heights (When did it come up to your knee? When was it about as tall as you? When would it be too tall to stand up in our classroom?), discuss the changing angles of the sun, read up on our solar system and the Earth’s seasons, and experiment with a flashlight and a globe.

    Some Spring Equinox traditions from around the world to explore:

    • Cahokia is one of the largest and most complex archaeological sites north of those in Mexico and the southwestern US. The Cahokia Woodhenge is a circular series of timber circles believed to be a solar calendar, which was used to mark the passing seasons (much like Stonehenge).

    • On this day at the Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, sunlight moves over the iconic Kukulkan Pyramid, giving the impression of a snake slithering on the stones!

    • The Mnajdra Temple complex on Malta’s southern coast was built with a specific alignment toward the equinox and solstices. On the equinox, sunlight directly enters the central corridor of the South Temple at sunrise. 

    • The Chinese Chunfen holiday has roots going back millennia, including seasonal games, sending well wishes to friends and family, and children painting eggs and attempting to stand them on-end.

    • With roots in Shintoism, Vernal Equinox Day is a national holiday in Japan. Traditionally, people would mark the day by cleaning house, starting new hobbies or making life changes, and visiting the grave sites of loved ones. Today, most people spend the day with their families.

    • Celebrated by people around the world, Nowruz (“new day”) is also referred to as Persian New Year. A time of hope and rebirth, people clean their homes, repair broken things or remove them, paint and improve their living spaces, and prepare traditional dishes to enjoy while visiting with family and friends.

    Some fun materials:

    Spring Equinox: science, cultural history, and activity ideas.

    Yoga poses to understand the Earth’s tilt, and spring picture book suggestions.

  • Monday, March 06, 2023 12:23 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Written by McCadden, ERAFANS Online Facilitator

    In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re still in the cold season, with longer, clearer nights and greater opportunities to view the stars, moon, and planets above. In many traditions around the world, human beings have tended to go inward during the winter, becoming more sedentary and taking shelter in some form designed to help us stay warm. We’ve gathered around the fire to share stories, songs, craft-making, and transmit various other skills and teachings. Some cultures celebrate Lunar New Year at this time.

    With this in mind, we offer this Song Book focused on celebrating aspects of the Night Sky. If you have any song sapling suggestions to add to our collection on this theme, we’d love to hear from you! Please share them via email with the subject line “Song Share”.

    Here are some related tales you might enjoy exploring, as well!

    Children's books about the night

    Children's books about stars and constellations

    Children's books about the moon

  • Monday, January 30, 2023 5:21 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Written by Abigail Gierke, ERAFANS Grants & Development Associate

    An annual report documents what an organization has accomplished in the most recent year, plans for the future, and the financial underpinnings that make it all possible. It helps organizations build trust, celebrate successes and major accomplishments, acknowledge donor and volunteer support, and helps readers understand a mission. In our case, we want to connect with you—our supporters—the lifeblood of our organization. Through our annual report, we hope you’ll get a better sense of what we do and why your support matters. 

    ERAFANS is a member-based organization at our core, founded on this principle: If we want to connect children and families with nature, we must give teachers, childcare providers, and administrators the relevant training that they need. From our immersive Notchcliff Nature Programs and intergenerational nature series to our Nature-Based Teacher Certification and Forest Days Programs, we work hard to lay the groundwork for a lasting connection to the natural world for all.

    Last year, almost 73 percent of our income came directly from our programs. They say that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and when you look at our numbers, you’ll see that saying rings true. Our flagship program, Nature-Based Teacher Certification, served 361 educators in 2022. That is a 40% increase from 2021. The Mountain Laurel Scholarship Fund was created to fulfill the growing desire for our programming, with over 25% of program participants receiving scholarship support. Forest Days directly supports public schools and the increasing need for equitable learning opportunities. Last year, we expanded our reach in Philadelphia, PA and took to the outdoors with a preschool in Falls Church, VA (our youngest Forest Days participants yet!). 

    In 2022, we hosted our first ever Nature Teacher Art Camp, which brought together 25 educators to stretch their creative muscles.  Participants gathered along the rocky shore of New Hampshire to practice nature journaling, organic art, wool felting, process art, and seaweed printing. We reignited the International Forest School Exchange opportunity to virtually bring together participants from four different countries to discuss the forest school model and share ideas. We hosted a session of Outdoor Learning in a Nutshell that, thanks to grant funding, was offered for free to Baltimore City educators working with kids birth-5 years old; ultimately increasing accessibility to nature for all. 

    Early childhood education refers to children from infancy  through age eight, and our opportunities tend to focus on that age range. However, one part of our work that you won’t find in the numbers is a trickle-down effect that can’t be measured. Educators who sign up for an online course take their new knowledge into their classrooms; they will share lessons and different ways of thinking with fellow teachers, and offer new ideas and insights to parents at back-to-school night. Children who had the opportunity to be a part of Forest Days will bring their caregivers back to the school grounds with a new confidence to share their favorite climbing tree or point out tracks they notice in the mud.

    Teachers certified through our Nature-Based Teacher Certification course confidently implement nature-based learning in their classrooms. They feel empowered to advocate for this type of learning with the administration and families, and model the benefits of time spent outdoors to others. Others start new nature-based programs in their community, or expand their current offerings to serve more families. 

    Those who participate in our retreats or book clubs come away with new connections and feel rejuvenated and inspired to make nature-based learning a reality in their communities. The list goes on. Through our work we see how the simple act of spending a small amount of time outside can turn into a habit and change lives—especially for our children.

    So take a look at the report and tell us what you think, but then turn off your computer and get outside!

    ERAFANS Annual Report FY2022.pdf

  • Saturday, January 28, 2023 2:04 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Written by Heather Rose Artushin, NBTC Participant

    The cold Michigan winters foster a hibernation culture that is undeniable - apart from the occasional trip to the lake or picnic at the park, much of my childhood was spent indoors. It wasn’t all bad. I fell in love with books and became a voracious reader. I made plenty of precious memories baking cookies with my mom and watching movies with my dad. We played board games and tinkered with projects. But when I moved south with my husband and 8-month-old son, making a home among the palm trees and mossy oaks in Charleston, South Carolina, I knew I needed to fall in love again - this time, with nature.

    Tasked with raising a boy in the 21st-century, and wanting to do it as screen-free as possible, I decided time outdoors was the answer. So outdoors we went, exploring the Shem Creek boardwalk, walking the trails through Palmetto Islands County Park, digging in the sand at the beach on Sullivan’s Island, biking along Pitt Street and even “hiking” across the Ravenel Bridge high above the Charleston Harbor. 

    When my second son was born, and my firstborn was of preschool-age, I got serious about homeschooling and discovered the idea of nature-based education. The opportunity for my children to grow up in an environment that fosters learning outside the four walls of a classroom, or even a living room, ignited a spark in my soul. 

    Learning alongside so many talented educators in such a wide variety of settings all over the world in the online Nature-Based Teacher Certification course opened my mind to the simple but profound ways I can facilitate a nature-based education for my children right in our own backyard. From exploring our local flora and fauna to playing with natural loose parts, cultivating our cordage skills to constructing a fort out of fallen branches, my children and I learned together through the engaging, hands-on experiences offered in the course. 

    Most valuable, and unexpected, was how my own personal relationship with nature strengthened during my time in the course. The homebody I used to be is now much more at home in nature. I treasure our sit spot practice and nature journaling, amazed at how much more dynamic and ever-evolving the world outside our windows is when I just take the time to slow down and notice. 

    I have so much more to learn on my journey as a nature-based homeschool parent, but my time with ERAFANS has equipped me with the resources to continue learning long after the course has ended. That’s the thing about nature - it has ever more to reveal to us about itself. I set out to prepare myself to teach in nature, but discovered within a passionate student ready to learn alongside my curious children. 

    Heather is a homeschooling mother of two adventurous boys, and passionate writer and poet. Follow her @heatherartushin and visit her website, to keep reading. 

  • Monday, December 19, 2022 2:25 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Written by McCadden/Honey Sweet Harmony

    As we in the Northern Hemisphere experience the shortening of days leading up to this year’s longest night on December 21, 2022, we may notice ourselves and the children in our programs naturally expressing less active outward focused energy, instead shifting towards a more diffuse, inward focus.  Last year we offered a post with some wonderful ideas for weaving your own Winter Solstice traditions, including crafts and stories. Below are some additional suggestions for ways you can honor the Solstice and cold season’s energetic qualities in your activities at this time of year. 

    Upcycled Tissue Paper Lanterns

    Before your Solstice Celebration begins, preparations could include this light-inspired “upcycle” craft project. Gather clean empty small jars (baby food, jam, etc.). Tear or cut tissue paper of various colors into small irregular or geometric shaped pieces. Using small watercolor type paint brushes and watered-down white glue, glue 1 piece of tissue paper at a time onto the jar’s exterior, slightly overlapping them so that they give a kind of mosaic look to the jar. Tea lights illuminate the beautiful multicolored jars. Here are some examples.

    These can serve as part of your Winter Solstice celebration, light the way for a center-wide or family lantern walk, offerings for a Trade Blanket, a Lantern Swap (see notes on the song Bless the Turning), or as gifts for the children to offer their family. 

    Trade Blanket

    The Trade Blanket is an age-old tradition in which people gather together to trade homemade goods or found nature objects. It is a wonderful opportunity to see the children’s talents, and it inspires all of us to grow in our skill and craft. The items to trade can either be handmade (not necessarily by the child, but by someone), or could be something special they’ve found outside (antler, skulls, cool rocks). In either case, it should have a natural essence to it. Each voluntary participant puts their item(s) on the blanket at the beginning, then within the group each takes a turn to select something else. It can work well for each child to bring a couple different things, as they might want to trade for more than one item. 

    Winter/Solstice Songs

    Here is a songbook with a few sweet songs you might enjoy introducing to your winter/solstice traditions. 

    Depending on the ages and capacity of the children you work with, these could be sung to them, with them,  some can be sung as rounds or simply as single harmonies together, and some can go well with craft making or dancing.  Many community songleaders tell the origin story of the song, and/or how the song came into their own life, before teaching the song. With this in mind, we’ve included something of each song’s “roots” as we know them.  You’ll notice that several of the “song catchers” went into nature for inspiration. If YOU have any winter songs you have “caught” from nature,  or songs you love for the cold season, please email us!

    Winter Online with ERAFANS

    The annual ERAFANS Winter Solstice Ceremony will be online on Tuesday, December 20, 2022 at 7 p.m. EST.  The ceremony will be recorded and available here

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