For many of us, the return to the school year will taste of ash.
Ash in our mouths as we answer the questions about how homes and forests burned.
Ash in our hearts as we mourn people and places, and millions of dead animals.
Ash in our memories with images and memories of heat, fear and smoke.
Young and old, near and far, many in learning communities will bear marks of the recent bushfires.
Students may need to process what they have seen and heard – whether directly in their home or community, or indirectly via the news or listening to their family’s conversations. Writing, like all creative pursuits, can be one of the many ways we start to heal together.
While we can’t wipe away the ash, we can offer these few small ideas for writing and learning activities in a community directly or indirectly affected by this year’s fires.
Five learning projects to help students be positive and proactive after fires
Fire and emergency responders treasure thank you messages. Discuss as a class what you and the community are grateful for, and who you might thank together.
- Send a class card, poster or letter/s to your local fire service, ambulance and emergency response services.
- Maybe the students would prefer to thank community, food bank, charity and wildlife rescue volunteers? Many, many people have a hand in fighting fires, front line or not.
- Prompt students to research local or national organisations, perhaps those who may not have been thanked yet.
Resources to share with students:
- Why Firefighters Treasure Thank You Letters
- The Today Show: Kids are writing beautiful messages for firies (includes addresses for CFA and fire services headquarters)
2. Foster a Forest
Plant a small forest and learn how to care for it
Revegetation will be key to the survival of Australian animals. Students could plant trays of native seeds into tube pots. Fifty pots fit into one tray or box, so it’s feasible to foster a small forest. This can be a longer-term project of hope for students.
Tree growing has specific seasons, and researching the needs of trees (plus the specific species indigenous to your area) is a great project for students to hone their research skills, which can link to informative writing.
Check out tree planting charities in your State (or ask your Council who does this in your region).
- Greening Australia – national programs to revegetate, repopulate and provide seed across the country
- Landcare Australia – national organisation with local groups and working bees
- The Tree Project – Victorian charity community tree-growing project
- Trees for Life – South Australian charity community tree-growing project
3. Adopt an Animal
Be a custodian for wildlife
Many students are focused on the destruction of Australian wildlife and habitat. Help them make positive moves by finding out more about their favourite wild creatures. Students can research and write or present projects on wildlife rescue, or pen procedural texts on how to make pouches for orphaned joeys.
Older students can review and seek to understand the lists of veterinary and medical supplies wildlife rescue organisations are asking for and write persuasive advertisements asking the public to help. Many charity rescue organisations encourage supporters to adopt an animal.
This list should not be taken as comprehensive – you may also want to look for regional and specialist registered charitable organisations in your State. These sites have reliable information about animals and their care after a catastrophe.
- ABC Splash – Visit a wombat orphanage – Goongerah Wombat Orphanage narrowly escaped the Gippsland fires in early January 2020. This video is from 2016: http://abcspla.sh/m/2169828
- WIRES – NSW: https://www.wires.org.au/
- Wildlife Victoria: https://www.wildlifevictoria.org.au/
- Australia Zoo – Animal Rescue Unit Queensland: https://www.australiazoo.com.au/our-animals/animal-news/666-rescue-unit-climbs-high-to-save-koalas
- Threatened Species Conservancy: https://www.tsconservancy.org/
- Zoos Victoria – Wildlife Rescue page: https://www.zoo.org.au/fire-fund/
4. Campaign for Climate
Make your voice heard
The big issues are the best for persuasive writing and speaking, and this summer has a few mega-topics for real debate.
Beloved Australian author, Jackie French, has written an opinion piece about what has to happen next. With older students, read her words and debate the questions she raises in her list ‘What do we need?’.
- The Sydney Morning Herald – Jackie French pens a letter to Australia, Jan 9, 2020
5. Read and Reflect
Stories help us heal
Whether near or far from the fires, stories will help students. Jackie French says ‘Don’t forget’ in her powerful article (above). Stories of hope and resilience help all of us heal – and you never know which one will hit the right note with a student, so we are preparing a list of our favourite books for a post-bushfire world.
In the coming weeks we will publish a set of story graphs covering books about bushfires and fire survivors. Here is our list so far:
- Fire, Jackie French, Bruce Whatley
- Fabish: The Horse that Braved a Bushfire, Neridah McMullin, Andrew McLean
- The House on the Mountain, Ella Holcombe
- Koala, Claire Saxby, Julie Vivas
- 47 Degrees, Justin D’Ath
- Ash Road, Ivan Southall – https://readingaustralia.com.au/books/ash-road/
- Bush Baby Rescue (Juliet, Nearly a Vet), Rebecca Johnson, Kyla May –
- Bushfire (My Australian Story), Sally Murphy
- Facing the Flame, Jackie French
(Have we missed any major books? Let us know!)