Last year, the children at SWS participated in an Earth Day walk and trash pick up. It seemed to be a big success, as children came back motivated to do more to help the environment.
Over the summer, I thought about ways I could integrate care and concern for the environment in the studio. I wanted the children to care deeply for some aspect of the environment, and knew that already they have differing levels of exposure to the natural world—some have experienced natural beauty in forests and mountains and deserts, and other’s exposure may be only through our nature play area, Kingman Island, and Rock Creek Park.
Yes, littering is bad, and saving water and electricity is good, but these are conversations that happen regularly at our school; I wanted to help expand children’s thinking to other topics of concern. I wondered how I could level the playing field, helping us simultaneously explore an aspect of nature where we all—myself included—would be learning. I pondered which, of all the issues affecting our environment, we could focus on. And I wondered how all of this could be woven in with some of our school traditions, the end of year exhibit at the Renwick Gallery on art from Burning Man, and Earth Day.
In September, I watched Chasing Coral, a documentary about what is happening to coral around the world, at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It was stunningly beautiful to see images of coral reefs that danced and glowed, teeming with more life than I ever knew was there.
I knew that coral reefs were in decline as the result of pollution and climate change, but Chasing Coral framed the urgency of this issue in a whole new light by showing time lapses of coral dying in just the past few years. Of course we can’t know for sure how quickly changes in the climate will affect coral, but one estimate in the film was that nearly all coral in the world could be dead in the next 25 years.
When I heard “25 years,” I immediately thought of the students I work with. I cried at the idea that by the time they are my age, nearly all the world’s coral could be gone. It struck me that this could be a topic that would be 1) new for all of us, 2) expand concern for the environment beyond littering and saving water, 3) have the potential to link up with many traditions and areas of learning, and 4) inspire creativity and imagination.
In the past month, children have learned some basic information about coral and that it is in danger from images, books, and this video. This project will continue to unfold in the coming months through a collaborative light installation/sculpture for the winter solstice, wearable art inspired by creatures who live in coral reefs around Mardi Gras, mobile art and signs for an Earth Day action and parade.
We were so fortunate to receive funding from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation to put towards the costs of this long-term project! Some ways you can support our work are:
- Help expand our project! Do you know someone who works with coral? Who has special access to something connected with coral? Put us in touch!
- Lend us your black light for our winter solstice project (we need several!)
- Donate any leftover UV black light paint you have from an old project
- Send me your “coral connections”—stories you have of your child talking about coral at home
- Help make the studio a magical, coral-inspired place for the winter solstice by volunteering in the studio
- Watch coral videos at home with your child. A few good ones are:
Coral Reef Rescue – This one we have watched in class!