Social Studies
Grades 6-8
Grades 3-5

Guardians of the Environment

Invite students to reflect on their roles as protectors of the Earth and ways they can practice kindness to the world around them.

Activity Partner
Total time estimate:
Activity Objectives
  • Students will learn about the Māori Tribe of New Zealand and their struggle to maintain and protect their ancestral land, and discuss the importance of practicing compassion for the environment
  • Students will identify a specific place in nature (local or national) that needs care and protection, conduct research on its history, and advocate on its behalf

This activity supports the development of the following social-emotional skills: self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.


Introduce students to the Māori Tribe and their actions to protect the natural environment in New Zealand. Consider reading this article, or sharing the notes below, with students.

You might say: “The Māori Tribe is an indigenous group in New Zealand. The Māori have strong spiritual bonds with the land, soil, and water - they believe that the natural world can “speak” to humans in different ways to provide them with knowledge and understanding of the Earth, and teach them how to live in harmony with the environment. The Māori consider themselves to be guardians of the Earth, and that nature is a living being or entity (like you or me) that should be respected, cared for, and guarded for future generations and the health of our shared planet.

In 1863, the Crown of New Zealand took away ancestral lands from the Māori Tribe. Since then, the Māori Tribe has been lobbying to maintain and protect their sacred relationship with the river, mountains, and land in New Zealand. In 2017, the New Zealand Parliament voted to pass a bill to recognize Wanganui River, Mount Taranaki, and Te Urewera (a national park) as living entities with rights like any human. This means that any changes to these places that might harm them, like gravel extraction, a new dam, pollution, and overfishing, will have to be approved by their human guardians. Although these places cannot necessarily speak to us, they now have guardians who advocate and care for them.”

Engage students in a discussion by asking them:

  • How do you think the Māori Tribe felt when their land was taken away?
  • How would you feel if your ancestors or parents owned a piece of land, like the area around Mount Taranaki, and someone took it from them?
  • Do you think there are ways that nature speaks to us when it’s healthy? What about when it’s unhealthy?
  • Why is the Māori’s role important? What do you think the river, mountains, skies, ocean, etc. would need protection from?
  • What are some actions that people can take in order to practice compassion towards the environment, and help protect and restore nature? 

Ask students to select a specific place in nature (local or national) such as a river, ocean, national park, etc. Then, have them complete a project that speaks on its behalf, and highlights the importance of practicing compassion for the environment. Students may need to conduct research in order to learn more about the history of their chosen location, and how it has been impacted by people over time.

For example, students might:

  • Write a haiku from the perspective of this place, sharing their right to a healthy existence, benefits that it provides to people, or a message about potential harm that has taken place
  • Put together a presentation (e.g., a flyer, poster, slideshow, etc.) about why this place is important, challenges and struggles that it experiences, and how people can help protect it
  • Create artwork (e.g., a painting, collage, song, dance, etc.) about how this place has been harmed and what it could look like if people took care of it

Invite students to present their projects to your Empatico partner class by facilitating a live virtual exchange, and encourage them to share why these places are important or special, and actions they want to take to respect, care for, and guard the world around them.


Guide students through a post-activity reflection by asking the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts on the following statements: “If nature is healthy, humans will be healthy.” and “Plant a tree even if the shade is not for you to enjoy.”?
  • What do you think are the biggest challenges that are facing our world, in terms of the climate, environment, animal population, etc?
  • Do you see yourself as a guardian and protector of the Earth? Why or why not? What could you do in order to protect the environment?
  • What did you learn about your partner classmates and their community from their projects? Did you discover any similarities between your values, ideas, and hopes?
  • Is there a way we could work together with our partner class to take action?

This activity was created in partnership with the University of California, Irvine Science Project.

Did you finish this activity? We'd love your input.