By Jeannie Russell
Now more than ever, our youth—who are suffering such great fear and disruption in their lives—need to exercise their capacity for positive agency in responding to crisis. Children can easily retreat into depression and passivity under the extremely frightening conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, but when they are asked to take charge of imagining a better world, they can also be directed toward forming just, humane, and effective ideas for helping all of those in their community who are in need.
Even under “normal” circumstances, developing the leadership skills and the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies that allow us to respond with compassion to the needs of others is central to the mission inspiring all of our HEART programs and resources. “Normal” for the youth of today is already a state of massive injustice, suffering, and pervasive anxiety about the future of our natural world. Our vision of humane education at HEART includes expanding the reach of core SEL goals to encompass the way students understand, relate to, and treat animals and the natural environment. As so many of us are isolated from each other and from daily contacts with the wider world, what could be more important for our youth right now than continuing to support their emotional lives? We can provide this support through empathy-building learning experiences and practices that engage their deep and centering love of animals, and that foster reverence for the beauty and abiding resilience of our natural world.
Here at HEART, we are ready to support parents, teachers, and other youth workers who are urgently preparing to develop remote learning options with a wealth of lessons, activities, and online games that are flexibly designed for non-traditional settings. These offerings are substantive, standards-aligned, and available for digital download to any device.
On our website, you’ll find:
• Our Justice for All K-5 and Secondary School Guides, offering complete lesson plans organized around humane education themes with topics addressing timely issues in social justice, animal welfare, and environmental ethics areas. Each theme includes printable worksheets, engaging visual aids, and lots of supplementary online resources for further study of the topics. Within each lesson plan, there are many stand-alone activities that are easily adapted for use at home.
• Our Humane Education Resource Guide for K-5students, offering lessons and accompanying materials that focus on animal welfare and protection topics. Youth learn about wild animals and their natural habitats, problems facing companion animals and how to care for them humanely, and lessons that illuminate the often under-appreciated qualities of farm animals. This guide features lots of simple and fun arts and crafts projects for kids who love animals and want to learn more about them.
• Our fun online game for young CIT (Compassionate Investigators in Training) activists to join the squad investigating “The Case of the Sick Puppy.” Youth use their critical thinking skills to help a family with a brand-new puppy, and learn many important facts about the humane treatment of our companion animals.
• A link to our interactive lessons on the Nearpod platform, a large digital classroom site that also features animal protection, social justice, and environmental conservation topics. These digital lessons are great for independent, self-paced learning. Each lesson asks students to draw, write, watch videos, and answer mini-quizzes as they move through each lesson, and provides vocabulary lists and links for further research on the topics.
•In addition to our interactive lessons on Nearpod, we are developing lessons on the online learning platform Seesaw, with a few ready to go and more to come very soon! These lessons are also designed for independent work, and they include spoken instructions, visual icons, and oral and drawing response options as part of all their content for younger students and language learners. Seesaw offers a remote learning guide, which includes other valuable links and resources for both teachers and parents.
• Our library of webinars, designed for both traditional and non-traditional educators, that offer guidance and teaching tips for using our resources and exploring humane topics in general. These can be very helpful in providing some background and specific ideas for creating engaging learning experiences on a wide range of topics.
• Our comprehensive book lists of inspiring and engaging literature and non-fiction writing for youth of all ages that tackle human rights, environmental ethics, and animal protection issues. Many of these titles are available as audio books or videos on YouTube, or as e-books that can be digitally downloaded.
On our website, you can also view, download free samples, and purchase a digital set of Everyday Circles Cards: daily activity cards that incorporate restorative practices, anti-bias education, SEL activities, and meaningful content on pressing world issues in an accessible and adaptable format.
Our Everyday Circles toolkit is the product of a collaboration between HEART, the Peace Learning Center, and Tribes Learning Community. HEART provided its humane education expertise and a set of short, active learning resources that foster empathy, reverence, and kind actions towards all living beings; the Peace Learning Center and Tribes contributed effective, evidence-based activities that promote restorative justice responses to conflict and harmful actions, and proactive practices for building a culture of respect and responsible behavior. While designed in part as a tool for classroom teachers, most of these activities can be easily modified for a family setting. The content is thought-provoking and engaging for use as discussion and short response or persuasive essay-writing starters, and they offer some wonderful mindfulness and emotional centering practices from which families with children of any age will greatly benefit.
In this time of a global pandemic, we are truly one world. What that world will look like as we move past the current crisis and confront the challenges that we know are ahead will depend on the courage, vision, and principles that guide our youth, as they will inherit the job. Now is the time—more than ever—to redouble our commitment to nurturing their respect for the inherent value of all living beings, and to building the skills they will need to bring forth a just and humane future. We at HEART hope that the resources we have created out of our own commitment to this mission will be of service to you as you continue under these trying circumstances to shoulder our society’s most important responsibility: caring for our children.