Friday, April 25, 2008

Earth Day, 1st graders and a Pine Tree Spirit Doll

Last week I didn’t realize it was earth day until I went to the elementary school to talk to the kids about New Mexico’s adopted state tree. Two weeks ago I participated in a science extravaganza. I was very daunted that the 5th graders were tall and the 1st graders were still babies. One of the teachers asked if I could come back to their class when it wasn’t so confusing and invited me for Earth Day.

Ohmigod, she taught 1st grade. I rallied, got all my stuff – clippers so the 22 kids could clip their own pine needles for tea, cheese cloth so they wouldn’t choke on loose needles, big measuring cup so the teacher could boil the needles with water and all 22 could sip a taste of pinion. I brought the pine tree spirit doll that shows everything a pine tree makes so the first graders could carefully pass her/him around (Pinions are both male and female).

When I finally walked into classroom 6, the teacher apologized because she asked that the other two first grade class join us in the big room. Over 60 first grade students and here I was overwhelmed with 22. Silly me.

The last time I spoke to any 1st grader, they couldn’t tell me where they lived. Perhaps they were shy. They were not shy this time. This time I was on their turf.

“Where do you live?” I asked expecting someone to come up with a full address. They finally responded, “Pecos!”

“Where is Pecos?” I prompted, expecting someone to shout out “New Mexico.”

“It’s here. You’re in it!” they countered. They could have easily added “You fool.”

I haven’t a clue on six- year old’s vocabulary. “Does anyone know what the word ‘adopted’ means?” the fool tried.

A boy with orange hair couldn’t contain himself.

“I know. I know. I am!”

“That’s wonderful,” I breathed a sigh of relief. “That means you are very special because your parents picked you out from many others.”

Finally, an easy dovetail. “Well, the state of New Mexico adopted a tree. It is the pinion pine.”

I explained that some pinon taproots burrowed themselves into the ground forty feet. Since each kid measured about 4 feet, I had ten kids lay on the floor feet to head to show how deep the roots could be. It was the quietest those ten kids were for the hour. They still may have associated lying down with nap time.

They passed around the tree spirit doll and discovered a Band-Aid. Another easy dovetail. “Yes, the sap, that sticky stuff that you’re getting all over your hands when you pull the needles off to make tea is sap.” Silly me, the fool clipped off a small piece of pine branch, had all the kids rip off some of the needles and place them in my 8-cup measuring bowl so every one of the 60 plus first graders could have a sip.

The kids noticed a tiny medicine bottle. “The pine tree once was called the medicine tree because it makes cough syrup.” I stated. I may have started loosing them but again, the kids came to my rescue.

“Has anyone ever seen cough drops called ‘Pine Brothers? “ Some nods. “Why do you think they called the cough drops, pine?”

“Cause they are made from pine trees?” the kids guessed. Hallelujah! I didn’t loose all of them.

“How about vitamins? How many of you take vitamins?” About half raised their hands.

“How about vitamin C? Do you know what it does?”

Another boy jumped up unable to control himself. “My brother is doing a report on vitamin C!” Obviously, the kid was impressed with his big brother in 5th grade who was reporting on Vitamin C.

“Have you learned anything from your big brothers report?” Ahh the joys of sharing knowledge.

“It comes in oranges.” So much for the joys of sharing knowledge.

“I know! I know,” She shouted from table 4. (I had the kids count off the tables so one of the table members could be a representative instead of all four, five or six of them crowding around me.) “You take vitamin C when you have a cold. It makes you healthy.”

I swear she wasn’t a shill. I did not plant her in the middle of the throngs of 6 year olds.

“Right you are. And guess what has the most vitamin C than anyone mentioned.”

“Oranges. Apples. Lemon. Bananas.” Shared knowledge rears its head again. The 5th grader made an impression.

A deep voice from a tiny boy child with a Mohawk hairstyle retorted. “Pinion”

Ohmigod. I was getting through.

I blew up a balloon to show the kids how large the throat of a pinion jay could get when it hoarded up to 200 to feed to the chicks. I explained that pinion jays flew in flocks of 50 or more and make a lot of noise. Sorta like 60 or more first graders.

“I saw a blue jay once,” one of the tykes hollered. “It was red!”

It seemed like hours when the microwave bell dinged.

A quiet child raised his hand. I called on him since he raised his hand.

“The bell went off,” he solemnly announced.

Surprisingly, when the teachers ordered, all the kids made a line, held their cups in front of them, and carefully, quietly walked back to their respective tables or floor spot.

They tasted their first sip of pine tea made with their own hands, even if the tea only steeped for three minutes instead of twenty and even though an eight-cup measuring bowl should have had eight teaspoons of broken pine needles, even though sipping tea is a quiet solitary relaxing moment.

“Well, what does it taste like?” one of the teachers questioned.

“Tastes like hot water,” one said

“Tastes like dishwater,” she responded, wrinkling her nose

“I think it tastes a little lemony,” another added

Praise Mother Earth and her Day! We have a new naturalist in Pecos Elementary School, New Mexico.

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