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

    Exploring Circles in Autumn

    by McCadden, ERAFANS 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 pronouncedmun-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)

    Written By McCadden, ERAFANS 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 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, 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

  • Monday, November 21, 2022 8:34 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    As a hub for conversations among educators, ERAFANS has been approached by many of you asking for help finding alternative ways to acknowledge the Thanksgiving holiday in your classrooms and programs. While responding to this need, we begin this blog post with a blanket of apology: recognizing that we are in the very earliest stages of starting to address the harms done by a long global history of colonization, with ongoing oppression of BIPOC and other marginalized communities.

    We cannot hope to dismantle the legacy of such complex and often unacknowledged harm through a single post or holiday. We offer this blog as our best effort to simply begin to acknowledge and act against these wider and pervasive systems, by responding specifically to your request for support around the particular topic of Thanksgiving, as well as Native American Heritage Month.

    Beginning with Gratitude

    The practice of pausing to acknowledge what we’re feeling grateful for has long been common in many cultures around the world. As a core routine, this practice helps “bring hearts and minds together” at the beginning of the day, or when a group gathers, or before eating food together, etc.

    Within the nature connection movement, awareness of the Haudenosaunee practice of the Thanksgiving Address or Words Before All Else was shared by Jake Swamp,Tekaronianekon “Where Two Skies Come Together,” royaner (sub-chief) of the Wolf Clan, Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk) from Ahkwesáhsne (across the New York/Ontario border), founder of the Tree of Peace Society and delegate to the United Nations, of whom many people say “The single most influential person I never met.” His wife Judy Swamp is a traditional elder of the Kanienʼkehá:ka who also mentored many nature connection programs, and one of their children, Skahendowaneh Swamp, is an installed speaker of the longhouse, educator, and traditional artist.

    Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message is a book by Jake Swamp suitable for young children. This is one Teacher’s Guide to go along with the book.

    Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World is a small booklet version by Jake Swamp and John Stokes available online in eleven different languages paired with Mohawk. It was produced by The Tracking Project together with the Tree of Peace Society, the Six Nations Indian Museum and the Native Self-Sufficiency Center; proceeds are shared among these groups.

    Skä•noñh - Great Law of Peace Center offers this video explanation of the Thanksgiving Address/Words Before All Else.

    This is a video of Jake Swamp speaking the Thanksgiving Address with Joanne Shenandoah’s music.

    Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story of one school’s implementation of the Thanksgiving Address in their morning announcements in her book Braiding Sweetgrass (also available as an audiobook read by the author, and a new edition adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith. This was the first book of ERAFANS Nature Book Club series, which is open to new members.

    A simple group way to practice gratitude is to go around a circle of those gathered and invite each one present to say their name, then share something they’re feeling grateful for, in no hurry, then somehow signal when they are complete such as “thank you for listening to my words.” You might find a stone, feather, or stick to pass as an indication of taking a turn. Coyote mentors often include each person’s Nature Names, and reflect on aspects of nature in our current location and season we’ve noticed and appreciate. It’s wonderful for children to see adults model this pattern of speaking from the heart. Keep in mind that sharing should always be an open invitation and not a requirement. You may invite everyone to speak but remind them that silence or pass can be a way to share.

    Reciprocity as the Natural Extension of Gratitude

    Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, offers an insightful reflection on reciprocity and mutualism among all species

    Four Worlds International Institute - “Sixteen Indigenous Guiding Principles for Co-Creating a Sustainable, Harmonious, Prosperous World emerged from a 50-year process of reflection, consultation and action within Indigenous communities across the Americas. They are rooted in the concerns of hundreds of Indigenous Elders, Spiritual Leaders, and Community Members, as well as in the best thinking of many non- Indigenous scholars, researchers and human and community development practitioners.”

    This article explains some of the ways in which many indigenous languages reflect a non-dominant way of relating to the world: 

    With these in mind, you might find inspiration for practices with the children to engage in small acts of gratitude for and reciprocity with the plants, trees, animals, birds, and water-dwelling creatures near you, whether that’s caregiving in a physical way, and/or offering a song or dance to those species, or telling one another stories about them.

    This post is part one of three in a series, "Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations”. ERAFANS staff has taken great care and sensitivity compiling this blog post in a way that honors Indigenous peoples and helps others do the same. If you have questions please feel free to contact us at

  • Monday, November 21, 2022 8:10 PM | Emily Woodmansee (Administrator)

    Deepening Our Awareness of Local Indigenous Cultures and History, Avoiding the “Ethnographic Present,” and Initiating Indigenous Connections Here and Now

    In our language and visual imagery, it is important to avoid speaking or presenting Indigenous peoples as if they only existed in the past, or as if they continue to exist in ways that were true long ago. Whether considering a story, worksheet, video, or other educational materials, it is good practice to keep an eye and ear out for such representation.

    As a rule, avoid depictions and activities related to generic “historical” “Indian” clothing, shelters, household goods, hunting and gathering methods, etc., unless you are presenting a history lesson and being specific to the people, place, and timeframe. Saying Native Americans/Indians or even a particular tribe “live close to nature” or “Native Americans used a talking stick” are examples of speaking in the present or past verb tense to overgeneralize inappropriately.

    One practice many outdoor and nature connection programs have begun is to recognize the local Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have been among those to tend the lands and waters of that area. Mindfulness around concepts of “ownership” vs “caregiving” and “tending the place” might be helpful cultural considerations.

    This online map is an excellent way to begin to explore the Indigenous connections where you are.

    You can also begin to look into what the Indigenous language names are for places, land features, water, and various species such as plants, animals, trees local to where you are. is a search engine that plants trees, and there are a number of online resources related to Indigenous languages you can explore on the internet.

    One placename to start with could be to mention “Turtle Island” as an alternative name for “North America,” and share a local version of a story how Turtle Island came to be, if it applies where you are (not all indigenous cultures of North America share this name for the continent).

    When looking to connect with local Indigenous people, consider deepening an existing connection - or reach out to a cultural center or other organization whose mission includes connecting with the general public. Inquire about the best first steps toward creating a long-term relationship with Indigenous mentors who have chosen to be point persons of intercultural connection.

    One way to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is the 35-mile Walk and Learn Challenge presented by the American Indian College Fund. This is a fun and educational way to combine what you already do – exploring nature outdoors with children – while advocating for Native American communities. Registrants get access to weekly “Learn” segments that help deepen your knowledge of Native students, their culture, and their communities. You can join the Facebook Group and engage with fellow challenge members by sharing pictures and/or thoughts about where your walks have led you. Once you join the challenge, you can ask your community to donate in support of the American Indian College Fund.

    Harvest Celebrations & Honoring the Ancestors

    Coming together at the end of the growing season to celebrate the harvest is a common practice in many cultures around the world. In Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, this is linked to the West direction: a time to gather and celebrate. It is also a time to “catch one anothers’ stories,” a practice we feature in an ERAFANS webinar, related to the core routine called “Story of the Day” in Coyote’s Guide.

    We now know that the familiar story of the “Pilgrims and Indians” coming together for such a celebration is historical fiction. Yet we can still find ways in integrity with our own heritage and the practices that emerge naturally from a relationship with our food sources, our local place, and our ancestors.

    At this time of year, consider holding some form of Ancestor / Harvest Supper, Feast, or Celebration for the families of your students, or the wider community. Here are a few ideas from regenerative culture design mentors Honey Sweet Harmony:

    Create a large basket or paper mache cornucopia / horn of plenty for your class/community. Invite each person to contribute one small item that symbolizes something for which they are feeling grateful from the past year. Then either in an extended time together, or over multiple circle times, take out 1 item at a time to return to that person, and invite those who wish to take a turn sharing what their item is and how it represents their gratitude. These shares can be about something very specific or something very broad, whatever comes from the heart.

    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, and anything else the participants gather with consent from and gratitude to nature can add to the decorations. Candles can be a beautiful addition if age-appropriate. Make sure the personal items are name-labeled and appropriate to have exposed to the hazards of weather and handling.

    Hold a community/class Ancestor Feast in which food from the participants’ ancestral heritage, or food loved by someone dear who has died, is shared with everyone, and an Ancestor plate is given a dollop of each dish. Create an Ancestor Chair decorated with special items 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'd like to sample. It's important to ask that the recipe for each dish be written up and provided, to allow for any dietary restrictions. Songs, music and dancing also add to the whole experience.

    Coming together to weave community connection in gratitude, food and story sharing is a beautiful practice. As with the familiar but imaginary story of “The First Thanksgiving,” harvest and ancestor celebrations can have profound effects, especially for a community that might feel fragmented in some ways.

    This post is part two of three in a series, "Thanksgiving & Native American Heritage Month as Invitations”. ERAFANS staff has taken great care and sensitivity compiling this blog post in a way that honors Indigenous peoples and helps others do the same. If you have questions please feel free to contact us at

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