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Bringing Humane Education to Libraries in the Bronx

One of the greatest resources for supporting literacy and community engagement in any city is the public library system. Here in New York City, despite funding cut-backs, the local public libraries are vibrant components of neighborhoods. HEART recently had the opportunity to bring some of our lessons into the libraries during the public school spring break.

Over the course of the week we offered daily lessons at three libraries in the Bronx that serve an area within which we have a number of in-school and after-school programs. One of the challenges of this kind of programming is that you can’t know in advance who will be there — the number of participants or the age-range who would like to attend – so flexibility both in the preparation of lessons and materials and in leading the programs themselves is critical. Thankfully, that means it’s also a lot of fun, as spontaneity and adaptability make each lesson unique in its execution. Another wonderful aspect to this venue for teaching humane education is that frequently parents are with their kids, and participate in the activities too, providing an opportunity to encourage humane approaches to issues affecting people, animals and the environment in the whole family.

The theme of the week was spring, and the kinds of homes that different groups of animals we share our living world with need in order to be safe and to thrive. We started off with an activity that encouraged participants to “step gently” into the natural homes of our urban wild neighbors. We placed photos of native animals around the room that kids had to find by walking slowly and mindfully into an imagined natural space, to the accompaniment of forest sounds and soothing music.

As each child found a common city animal we identified the species and talked about where the animal might live in the city, what he or she needs to be safe and healthy, and what kinds of problems or threats each individual might face as a city animal. Having identified the homes of our wild city neighbors we then created designs for spaces like backyards, shore areas, and parks that would have everything they need, and protect them from threats like trash, cars, and air pollution that we had identified.

The next day we focused on pollinators, learning about how important they are and then made easy-to-spread wildflower seed packets decorated with pictures and facts for the kids to bring both beauty to their neighborhoods and much needed nourishment to our local pollinators.

Following up on the problem of pollution in our city spaces we then did a class about plastic and its impact on the land, rivers and oceans around us. All the participants received organic cloth shopping bags that we decorated with pictures and messages to ‘spread the word’ about the need to reduce our use of plastic and make sure it doesn’t end up in our waters.

The next two classes continued the theme of protecting the homes of different groups of animals by learning about issues concerning captive animals in zoos, circuses and marine parks and creating dioramas of their homes in the wild. The kids then explored the special qualities of farm animals  and thought about the kind of homes that would be best for them.

The relaxed and eclectic library setting was a fun change from our mostly school-based programming. Bringing humane education into a wide range of community-based settings is central to our mission, and it was wonderful to welcome spring along with these great families!

Photo Credit: Loughborough University Library/Flickr

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