Missouri Environmental Education News: December 2023

Welcome to the lastest edition of MEEA's Newsletter
Jamin Bray

Table of Contents

  • Feature Article
  • Lesson Resources
  • Annual Conference & Professional Development
  • Featured Events, Grants, Workshops & Webinars
  • JEDIA: Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
  • Green Schools Corner
  • Missouri Nature Phenomena This Month
  • News from the Field

Dear MEEA friends,

If I were a doctor, I would prescribe “Going Outside More.”  It’s not only logical (I mean, we are after all a part of, not separate from, Mother Earth), but it’s a proven fact:  Being outdoors connected to nature and our earth in general is just good medicine!

I so appreciate this month’s feature article by Tonia Scherer, our wonderful MEEA Board President, because I too have to fight the Winter Blues.  One of my favorite songs is called “September Song,” which always makes me cry for two reasons: one, because it’s so beautiful and well-written, and two, because it speaks to the sadness that we can feel when the days grow short.  And, by the way, I’m an “easy cry!” As my family often observes, I even cry during really happy commercials.  My new winter favorite is the one with the three older ladies who decide to go sledding together on a snowy day, like when they were kids!  Brilliant!

Last month Erin Graves helped us explore Hiking in our newsletter – its value and so many resources and places to go and appreciate the outdoors while on a hike.  Now, Tonia follows up on that concept to focus more deeply on one of the most beneficial aspects of being outside: our mental health. We don’t have to run or climb a mountain to feel better (although I LOVE both of those things!).  Just going to a place with water, or listening to the winter wind through a pine grove, or going outside at night, closing your eyes and listening to geese migrating in the dark…all of these simple things can make us happier and healthier. And healthier we need to be! (see troubling news about our health and life spans in the News from the Field section)

The other prescription I would give would be Hope: we at MEEA (our staff and our amazing working Board of Directors) are reaching the crest of a pretty steep mountain we have been climbing—seeking help to fund the important work we do, expanding our reach through membership and partnerships, solidifying our values, focusing even more on our unique mission, and developing more vital services for educators across our state to access.  All of this momentum is giving us hope for achieving our goals and objectives moving into the new year.

Oh, and another ray of hope if you, too, have the winter blues: just remember the winter solstice is almost here and the daylight will start getting longer again–YAY!

Jamin Bray, MEEA Co-Director

For more on prescribing nature:  pbs.org/newshour/show/why-doctors-are-increasingly-prescribing-nature

To listen to my favorite version of  September Song (composed by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson, 1938): September Song, as sung by Willie Nelson

 

 

Feature Article:

The Winter Blues

Article, photos and lesson ideas submitted by:

Tonia Scherer 

MEEA Board President & Director of Schools, Seed St. Louis

 

Why I Stopped Singing the Winter Blues

When I was a child I loved the winter. Winter in a rural town meant plenty of snow days off school.  It also meant shoe-skating on our frozen creek, drinking marshmallow-topped cocoa with family, and spending all day with the neighbor kids sledding every hill, ditch, and dirt mound we could find. But as I became an adult, my love for the season faded quicker than the winter sun.  It suddenly became less about outdoor fun and more about proper preparation, so that I could endure (or avoid) the cold temperatures and snow.

Then, not too many years ago, something changed for me. I moved from a house with a backyard to a 2nd floor apartment with my big ole dog.

Tonia’s “big ole dog” Bowie, enjoying the snow

Gone were the winter days of swinging the door open just wide enough for my dog to run out and do his deed while I watched warmly from the window. Now, I was forced to get up a little earlier every morning to take him on a proper walk before I left for work- even in the dead of winter. This wasn’t an option. The dog had to do his business, and if I was going to go to the trouble of putting on 3 layers of clothing and making him hobble down the stairs, he was going to get a decent walk around the neighborhood, too. Suddenly, I was spending 30 minutes early each morning moving my body and soaking in the rising sun no matter what the weather had in store. And you know what happened? I eventually found myself not only enjoying but looking forward to these winter morning strolls. With the proper outdoor gear, sauntering in the cold really wasn’t as bad as I had built it up to be in my mind for so many years. In fact, the chilly air that found my bare cheeks perked me up better than the hot coffee that was waiting back at my apartment.  I started walking with a little spring in my step, while my dog diligently sniffed out every frozen “message board” on the block. The act of moving in the cold each morning awakened my body, mind, and spirit for the day, and it is something I continue to do today. 

I share this story because it was an experience that I wholeheartedly attribute to changing my attitude about winter by curing the seasonal depression I experienced for too many years of my adult life. 

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

We often refer to a change in mood and energy levels as the winter blues or seasonal depression, but medical professionals recognize Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a true type of depression that usually occurs once the days get shorter and nights get colder (hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/seasonal-affective-disorder) The lack of sunlight is thought to be linked to a chemical change in the brain that can cause us to feel more gloomy this time of year. Similarly, most cases of vitamin D deficiency are due to lack of outdoor sun exposure (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997), and low Vitamin D levels can have numerous side effects, including fatigue and depression. Along with these chemical changes in the brain, we also have a tendency to become more sedentary in the winter months. Both of these things can have noticeable effects on our physical and mental health.  

Luckily, doctors say spending just 15- 30 minutes outside each day during the fall and winter months can help relieve this seasonal depression. Not only does the additional exercise increase endorphins, but the added sunlight has numerous benefits for the body along with Vitamin D production. Ophthalmologists have even suggested that an hour of sunlight each day can release dopamine in the brain and help prevent nearsightedness in children. (https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_benefit_of_daylight_for_our_eyesight)

This season, let us embrace the glorious sun and the changing seasons, even on the shortest and coldest days. After all, the winter solstice has been a celebrated event by our indigenous ancestors for thousands of years and has long been considered a special time for those who honor the patterns of our world. Find your own way to honor the winter solstice this month and get outside!

 

Embracing Winter with Open Arms (Just Don’t Forget the Layers!)

There is no shortage of activities to do in the winter, but if you prefer to ease your way into getting outside this season, below are some simple suggestions to get started.

  • Try what I do! If you have a dog, start setting your alarm just a little earlier in the morning so that you can walk your furry friend around the block a couple times before you have your morning coffee. Convinced you’re not a morning person? Go for an afternoon walk.  This can also help release any stress you may have carried home from the day. 
  • Take a post-lunch stroll.  After lunch is when my productivity levels are usually at their lowest. If I don’t get up and move a bit, then I am greeted with heavy eyelids.  A short walk around the neighborhood, school campus, or job site after lunch can help with the winter blues, assist with digestion, and reinvigorate you for the rest of your day.
  • Harvest dead plant and grass materials to make cordage and bracelets. The best time to harvest milkweed or dogbane for making cordage is in fall or winter, once the stems and leaves are dry and brown.  
  • Take up nature journaling.  This is a great hobby that can be continued year-round, and it can be done in as little as 15 minutes. New to nature journaling? John Muir Laws is an excellent place to start. On his website, you can find a link to download a free PDF version of his excellent book How to Teach Nature Journaling.
  • After it snows, go on a search for wildlife tracks! See how many different animals you can find and identify.
  • Look for guided nature hikes.  Winter is a great time to hike in the woods, as you can often see further without all of the leaves on the trees. The Missouri Department of Conservation hosts guided hikes at parks and conservation areas around the state. 

 

Accessing Proper Winter Gear

Warm and comfortable clothing is crucial for enjoying the outdoors in the winter and should be easily accessible to everyone! Check out some of the tips below for finding affordable outdoor clothing. 

  • Do a Google search for groups or businesses holding winter coat drives in your region.  For example, many YMCAs distribute winter clothing to people in the community. One Warm Coat is also a great website with a searchable map for coat drives based on your zip code.
  • Thrift stores are your friend! Personally, I never need a reason for thrifting, but I have stumbled upon some of my best gear for incredible prices while digging through thrift store racks. You can also use sites like The Thrift Shopper to locate thrift stores in your community.
  • Look for gear swaps in your community or find out how to get the best deals from larger outdoor clothing companies. REI has a website just for selling and trading in used clothing and so do many other big outdoor clothing retailers. You can also often get last season’s styles for up to half off from shops like Patagonia and Cotopaxi during their semi-annual sales. 
  • If you are in St. Louis, River City Outdoors has an outdoor gear lending library, which includes a variety of sizes of quality outdoor rain jackets. Check out their lending library here!

Lesson Resources

 

Seed St. Louis’ Decomposing Leaf Timeline lesson is in the form of nature journaling that can be done in the winter just about anywhere you can find a tree. This activity introduces students to the process of decomposition using found items in nature. Students will search for evidence of living and decomposing matter, identify characteristics of decomposition, and create a model diagram of decomposing leaves. 

 

         

 

 

 

Guiding Question – What happens to a leaf
after it falls off a plant?

Annual Conference & Professional Development

The MEEA Annual Conference 2024

Planning has already begun!

What we know so far:

  • Our 2024 conference will be in the Springfield, Missouri, area.
  • New members for a conference planning committee are coalescing to help.
  • Young Environmental Leaders will be super involved!
  • It will likely be in early November, with the exact date TBD.
  • It will be AMAZING!  That we already know for sure if it’s anything like 2023!

   

email us with questions, comments and feedback.

Check Out MEEA’s New PD Course Platform!

We are happy (aka THRILLED!) to announce that our new Course Platform is now officially up and running.  This has been one of the most important changes to MEEA in the past few years: a revived and modernized process to offer professional development and certification for environmental educators.  We are so grateful to our members for your patience during this “under construction” process, and to our BOD, Certification Committee Members, multiple pilot-testers, and other state affiliatee collaborators/mentors for making this happen!

  • Thanks to funding from the EPA and distributed through the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), of which we are an affiliate, MEEA has been able to work closely with other state affiliates to receive training in an online course platform, Moodle.com.  We are currently pilot-testing a brand new course called Teaching and Learning in the Outdoors, a course that was the number one PD topic requested by EE educators in a multi-state survey this past spring.  Once this course is reviewed and updated after the pilot phase (end of January 2024), it will be available to more participants.  So stay tuned!
  • Preview of courses to come (some ready, some being developed as we speak by multiple state affiliates):
    • Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (initial November launch delayed; coming VERY soon!)
    • Foundations in Teaching Environmental Education
    • Environmental Justice
    • Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)
    • Green Schools
    • Climate Justice
    • Climate Literacy
    • EE and Civic Engagement

In the mean time, visit this link to explore our Moodle platform and our growing list of future courses: eecourses.meea.org

Featured…

Events

Featured Event:

Upcycle Treasure Box 

Swap for Teachers, $15 take all you need, bring your own bags
Excluded: Jewelry and Science Glass

Dec. 27 10am to 7 pm 

 

facebook.com/upcycletreasurebox

stlteachertradingpost.com

Grants

Featured Grant:

Ozark Society Youth Grants 

  • Deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday February 3rd 2024
  • Awards will be announced and funds will be distributed in March 2024
  • Final grant reports will be due by Sunday March 30th 2025

ozarksociety.net/ozark-society-awards-grants-scholarships

Workshops & Webinars

Featured Webinar:

Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF) Webinar: Challenges and Opportunities for Conserving Rare Grassland Plants

December 20 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm CST

Register Here

grownative.org/event/mpf-webinar

JEDIA: Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility

What is Climate Justice?

 

MEEA will be offering a new online course (currently under construction) in the next year on the topic, Climate Justice (see Professional Development section in this newsletter above).

Interestingly, not many people are really aware of or understand what that means.  In a nutshell, the effects of global climate change are not experienced equally among all nations and people on the planet.  The countries, including the US, that are adding the most CO2 to the atmosphere are generally less vulnerable to the rapidly increasing consequences of climate change.  But, as with all of these JEDIA issues, it’s more complicated than that!  Within our own country, region and state there are communities who are at much greater risk from catastrophic climate change impacts than others because of multiple variables.

A recent analysis from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reports that most people are not aware of this impact, noting that “…only about one in three Americans (34%) say they have heard or read at least “a little” about climate justice, while most (65%) say they have not heard of it.”

That’s where we come in as environmental educators: to help citizens care, understand and act on environmental issues.  Increasingly, no environmental issue is as crtitical to care about and understand than climate change and the injustice that it brings.

Fortunately, the Yale analysis from that same survey also states:  “However, after reading a brief description of climate justice, about half of Americans (53%) say they support it, while large majorities of registered voters support climate justice-related policies.”  So there you go…once people understand it they want to act on it.  Let’s help them understand. –JB

To learn more about Climate Justice and the Yale Climate Change Communication report: 

climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/who-supports-climate-justice-in-the-u-s

Green Schools Corner

Show-Me Green Schools (SMGS) Partner Spotlight:

Phones for the Planet

Patrick Arnold, Founder & CEO of 10 Billion Strong and a SMGS Partner, would like to share a campaign they are launching to reduce e-waste and harmful mining + bridge the digital divide. What an excellent idea! Educators could consider this as a great way for kids to lower e-waste, help others, and support the circular economy.

Interested in this initiative? See: tenbillionstrong.org/phones

For more about 10 Billion Strong: A Global Sustainability Movement:  www.tenbillionstrong.org  

The Partner Network is an integral part of  Show-me Green Schools,

a suite of programs co-managed by MEEA and the Missouri Gateway Green Building Council.

Nature Phenomena This Month

Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation. Learn more at https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide

News from the Field

 Invasive Species News

Missouri bill would ban plant shops from selling you invasive species like Bradford pears