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Teaching Stewardship with a Children's Classic


Environmental ethics...it’s the balance between nature and human interaction, and it can be a weighty topic.

The Roanoke City School system is among those divisions starting the discussion early, getting 2nd graders to think about natural resources. They’re doing it with the help of a book, written back in 1942.

The Little House, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, tells the story of a house built on the top of a hill, far out in the country. Eventually, Walt Disney turned Burton’s story into an animated short film.

“She was a happy little house, for she loved the country life. The peace and quiet, the warm sun on her roof, and the whisper of the summer breeze around her eaves.”

The house watches as the seasons pass. Over the years, the house falls into disrepair, sitting vacant, surrounding by urban sprawl.

“The tempo of life had quickened, for this is the age of progress.”

Burton personifies The Little House with gender, thoughts, and emotions.

Roanoke City Planner Maribeth Mills says it has all the ingredients to introduce heritage stewardship to a young audience-- the future managers of our natural and cultural resources.

“We recognize that in today’s environment, parents are scared to let their children outside. There have been a lot of studies that children are very disconnected from the built and natural environment.  So Virginia Lee Burton’s Little House is really a perfect teaching tool that hey, my surroundings didn’t always look like this.  It’s been an evolution.”

Virginia Lee Burton

“Remember when our house was starting to look not so vibrant and alive, the color was fading, a window was broken.  Because the house had not been taken care of for a while.”

At Roanoke City’s Round Hill Elementary, 2nd grade teacher Christy Parker, has the class in rapt conversation, as they ponder the connection between their surroundings and happiness.

The lesson plan, curated by the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation, shows what changes in  transportation, jobs, buildings, and population mean for communities.  The initiative aims to grow from the ground up a generation well versed in historic preservation and land conservation…readying them for the future they will inherit, for better or worse.

The lesson plans for The Little House are available here.


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