An Intergenerational Approach to PLT’s Lifetime of Learning

June 4, 2024

Here at Project Learning Tree, we aspire to provide a lifetime of learning through our environmental education resources. I’ll be honest, when we initially thought about a “lifetime of learning”, our primary focus was on early childhood through young adulthood.

But leave it to a retired teacher from California to keep inspiring and educating far and wide, exhibiting the true meaning of a lifetime of learning.

Lola Coleman taught science and other subjects to middle and high school students in Southern California for nearly 20 years, even serving as a professional development facilitator for both Project Learning Tree and Project WILD. When she retired from teaching during the first year of COVID, she had hoped to volunteer in Los Angeles, Compton, and Lynwood Unified School Districts and connect students to nature through PLT. However, when that didn’t pan out, she set to work volunteering with a different audience, senior citizens.

Today, Lola co-leads an online-based Wellness Forum with senior-agers (as she fondly calls group members). They meet regularly via Zoom to talk about various aspects of wellness, from physical and emotional to environmental.

In April, Lola reached out to me via email with the subject line of “PLT for Seniors”. I was immediately intrigued. Over the course of their last several meetings, Lola and her co-facilitator, Gretchen, have been discussing the eight dimensions of wellness. Lola shared that she still reads The Branch newsletter and inquired to see if she could use some PLT materials with her group to celebrate Earth Day as their focus would be on environmental wellness.

Yes, yes, a resounding yes!

Lola invited me to participate in their Earth Day celebration and let me tell you, I feel beyond blessed to have had the opportunity! I left with a heart full and a reminder of why I absolutely love what I do.

Environmental Wellness at Every Age

Lola began the meeting by inviting everyone to take a few moments to just breathe. Deep centering breaths. As we did this, I was reminded by how this simple exercise grounds us all. Sometimes I have my own kiddos do this at home, and it has an immediate calming effect.

Before diving into the PLT activity, Lola set the stage, sharing a brief history of how Earth Day came to be and how events like the Cuyahoga River, once one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S, catching fire over 13 times spurred the creation of the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. “We celebrate Earth Day because it’s our home. We wouldn’t keep our house dirty, so why would we do that to our planet?” Lola said.

Lola encouraged the group to be mindful of all aspects of their lives because in doing so, it helps us achieve harmony with our environment. When we think about the impacts of our daily habits, like driving versus walking somewhere or tossing your food waste in the garbage versus composting or putting it into the green waste bin, we can lessen our negative impacts on the environment.

These little things can add up to make a positive difference!

Connecting to Our Environment

Lola led the group in the Personal Places activity from PLT’s Places We Live guide, fostering an incredible discussion about how intertwined we are with our environment and what special place each person has that holds meaning in their heart.

I loved listening to everyone’s stories and learning about what places inspire them.

One woman regularly passes by the Compton Community Garden, founded by Dr. Sheridan Ross. She loves how Dr. Ross took a vacant lot in a food desert, brought it to life with a beautiful garden that now nourishes the community, and teaches children about the value of our land and the environment. She hopes it inspires youth to learn more about our planet.

In addition, several individuals shared how the land they own today was originally owned by their ancestors who escaped slavery. It breaks their hearts knowing that younger generations don’t want to care for that land.

This activity and discussion sparked a deeper conversation into how communities can come together to connect with the environment.

  • How do we inspire young people to conserve and care for land, especially land that has been passed down generationally?
  • How can we turn vacant lots in urban areas and food deserts into community gardens like Dr. Ross did?
  • What can we do to make our planet better for our children when they grow up?
  • How do we harness what each person knows and use that to work together and help each other?

The takeaway from this powerful discussion was that it takes collective education and action to drive change. Lola shared how the seven principles of Kwanzaa can help communities make positive impacts – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

When we come together for the greater good, amazing things happen.

Consider bringing students to an assisted living residence and leading the Improve Your Place activity from Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide. Together, students and seniors can plant a vegetable garden and learn from one another while in nature.

Invite grandparents to participate in some fun nature activities that you can do in your backyard.

Whether you’re an educator, caregiver, parent, student, natural resources professional or anywhere in between, I encourage you to look for ways to cultivate intergenerational conversations, relationships, and work together on behalf of our environment.

Megan Annis

Megan Annis

Megan is Project Learning Tree (PLT) and PLT Canada's Director of Sales and Marketing. She believes working with youth is the key to building a sustainable future and is passionate about helping bring environmental education, forest literacy, and career pathways products to market.