Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Teaching Primary Children to Love the Creation

imageNot long ago, my daughter came home from Primary and told us she had learned about fish in Sunbeams. I thought that was pretty awesome, but also unexpected, so I did a little looking around online to see if her teachers had gone rogue. They hadn’t. In fact, the Sunbeam manual spends nearly two months on Creation-themed topics. Some of the lesson titles:

  • I am thankful for the day and the night
  • I am thankful for water
  • I am thankful for trees, plants, and flowers
  • I am thankful for fish
  • I am thankful for animals
  • I am thankful for birds and insects
  • I can be kind to animals

But as my wife (the Primary chorister) reminded me, it’s not the lessons that will stick with these kids for the rest of their lives, but the songs they sing each week. Need proof? Go ahead and try to recite an Article of Faith without those pesky melodies springing to mind.

There’s a strong earth stewardship component in the Children’s Songbook too. One the best-known and beloved songs of all is “My Heavenly Father Loves Me,” which has perhaps done more than any other Church material to instill Latter-day Saints with an appreciation for God’s creation.

Whenever I hear the song of a bird
Or look at the blue, blue sky,
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
Or the wind as it rushes by,
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
Or walk by our lilac tree,
I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world
Heav’nly Father created for me.
He gave me my eyes that I might see
The color of butterfly wings.
He gave me my ears that I might hear
The magical sound of things.
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart:
I thank him rev’rently
For all his creations, of which I’m a part.
Yes, I know Heav’nly Father loves me.

This is not the traditional Christian dualism of man vs. nature, with humans standing dominant above and apart from the environment; it’s “all his creations, of which I’m a part.” And why did God give you ears and eyes and a sense of touch? Why, to see butterfly wings and feel the rain falling mercifully down on you, of course. What wonderful theology Clara McMaster taught us!

That’s far from the only song about loving and giving thanks for God’s creation. There’s a whole section on Nature and Seasons, in fact. Because of President Kimball’s inspired counsel, we even have a song about planting gardens, provident living, and community. I can’t help but quote it at length:

The prophet said to plant a garden, so that’s what we’ll do.
For God has given rich brown soil, the rain and sunshine too.
And if we plant the seeds just right and tend them carefully,
Before we know, good things will grow to feed our family.
We’ll plant the seeds to fill our needs, then plant a few to spare,
And show we love our neighbors with the harvest that we share.
Oh, won’t you plant a garden, too, and share the many joys
A garden brings in health and love to happy girls and boys!

What brought all this curriculum about? Part of it is probably the simple answer: tangible, familiar things like fish and trees are easier to teach little kids about than abstract doctrines. But it’s more than that. These lessons and songs are a recognition that experiencing God’s creation is one of the most important ways we come to know Him. Loving and feeling gratitude for nature is often the path to spiritual awakening and renewal. And that starts with the wonder kids feel when they hear a robin or collect cicada shells.

I love that songs like “I Think the World Is Glorious” and “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree” are part of our Latter-day Saint culture. I love that my kids come home from Primary having looked at pictures of birds and beetles and thought about the big wide world they’re a part of.

I’d love to hear other people’s experiences. Did Primary play a role in how you feel about the earth and your responsibilities to it? How do you teach your children (be that your own offspring, your Primary kids, or other little ones in your life) to take good care of Creation?