By Karen Palmer
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am a mother, and like most mothers, I am fierce about my children’s education. When I realized that environmental education was not part of my daughter’s school curriculum, I decided to personally do something about it.
Because our school budgets were overburdened, I began a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing environmental education to our public schools that would educate in a fun way to engage the children to become environment stewards. This journey began more than 14 years ago when my daughter was in kindergarten; our community did not have anything organized to celebrate Earth Day. Many children and adults did not even know what Earth Day was.
Upon being introduced to the idea of Earth Day, the children were fascinated and felt empowered as they learned that they could make a difference. I knew a game would be fun and engaging for children, and would cultivate their goodness while empowering them, so “Let’s Save Our Earth” board-game was born. Without the adequate budget, the public schools could not purchase the games, so I started my own local non-profit organization “ Eco Angel Enterprises.” The time I dedicated to going into our public schools inspired me and made me realize that children really did care about the Earth. They wanted to be involved; they just needed to be educated about ways they could help.
Children thrive on empowerment and they truly love leadership roles. I went into the eighth grade class in my community and asked: “Would you like to start a recycling program in your school?” Every single hand went up! The older children were asked to create a recycling program and then teach the younger children; they eagerly accepted.
The school set up recycle bins in every classroom and students volunteered to pick up the bins each week. It was a very successful program. There were many other great projects inspired by the children wanting to help the world. Each year more children asked, “How can I help?” I have found it a beautiful experience. When I started volunteering at a local animal shelter, many of the children asked to help the animals too. My non-profit organization was stretched to include animal advocacy so the children could come out and feed and care for the animals. They organized bake sales and lemonade stands to raise money. These beautiful children were finding more and more ways to make their corner of the world a little better! Their engagement inspired even more action and kindness.
Since I am also a yoga and mindfulness coach, I decided to do research to see if it would benefit children to incorporate yoga and mindfulness as a weekly practice. The research revealed that when mindfulness was added to their skills, the children were being more kind and compassionate toward each other and had less anxiety, with improved concentration.
Dr. Gerald Newmark. Ph.D wrote an amazing book called, How to raise Emotionally Healthy Children in this book he states all children have five critical needs:
- Need to feel respected; when children are not treated with respect, it can lower their self- esteem.
- Need to feel important; if children do not feel important, they may seek negative ways to get attention.
- Need to feel accepted; when children do not feel accepted they suppress their feelings.
- Need to feel included; children need to feel they belong, to feel a part of things, to feel connected to other people and living beings, and to have a sense of community.
- Need to feel secure. Security means creating a positive environment where people care about one another and they feel safe to express themselves and that others listen. Where differences are accepted and conflicts are resolved peacefully.
In this article from The Huffington Post we see the benefits of mindfulness in schools:
“Mindfulness, the practice of cultivating focused awareness on the present moment, has been shown to have a number of benefits, including emotional stability and improved sleep. Now, some schools have started incorporating mindfulness programs into their curriculums, teaching kids as young as five years old how to use body scans, mindful breathing and attention to their thoughts and emotions to become more focused. According to a recent study, such programs could be successful in leading to reduced depression-related symptoms among adolescents.
Researchers at the University of Leuven study looked at the experiences of 408 students from five different schools in Flanders, Belgium, all between the ages of 13 and 20.
At the beginning of the study, the students answered a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and were then divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training program which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. All students filled out the questionnaire after the training, and again six months later.
The researchers found that students who adhered to the mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program. Whereas before the training, 21 percent of the test group and 24 percent of the control group reported symptoms of depression, after the mindfulness training, 15 percent of the test group versus 27 percent of the control group had depression symptoms. Six months later, 16 percent of the test group and 31 percent of the control group showed signs of depression.”
So what’s the antidote to bullying the planet? Well, I know I have witnessed the changes in my own community from bringing environmental education, animal advocacy, compassion, and mindfulness to public schools. I truly believe with all my heart that if we create a curriculum with these elements, and implement it into public schools, we will transform the planet. I have shared the research and my own personal experiences and will continue to share what I have learned and created, and will endeavor to create more.
I am a mother who, when I decided to become a mother, promised myself and my daughter that I would try to make the world a better place. I have kept that promise.
I am only one mother who had a vision and envisioned creating programs with other non-profit organizations and spreading this message of hope all over the world. I know there are other mothers who feel just as fierce as I do about teaching our children how they can make the world a better place.
What if all the moms caught the vision? What if everybody did? It is so important to focus on what we can do; I have been an example of this for the past 14 years in my community. Close your eyes and imagine a world where this education was implemented for children in every public school. What a wonderful world. WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER.
Karen Palmer is affectionately known as the “Queen of Kindness” she is following her inner- calling to help women, children and animals end the suffering of abuse. She is a successful non-profit business leader, game designer, dog trainer, environmental educator, and yoga instructor. She is the host of a popular Online Talk Show, “Living On Purpose TV” and a Best-Selling Author. Her website is www.positivelypetsandkids.com