Guardians of the Earth

Invite students to create an art project that inspires environmental action for a local landmark.
Ages 11-18 / 60
min Activity
Social Studies


  • ‍Learn about the Māori Tribe of New Zealand and their struggle to maintain and protect their ancestral land
  • ‍Discuss the importance of practicing compassion for the environment
  • ‍Identify a local landmark and create artwork that raises awareness about any environmental issues that affect this site, and actions that can help protect and restore nature 

Supporting Research

When students participate in eco-art projects, research shows that this experience helps them form an emotional connection between themselves and the environment, and understand how they can better respect, care for, and guard the world around them. Educators should encourage students to leverage skills around kindness and collaboration to identify compassionate actions that can help protect and restore the natural world. 

To learn more about this skill, and how it promotes students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.


  • ‍Art materials (e.g., pens, pencils, markers, crayons, and paint)

Activity Partners


  1. 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 explain: “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 (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 beings 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.”
  2. 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 took care of 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 other places in the world that need protection? 
    • What are some actions that people can take in order to practice compassion towards the environment? 
  3. Ask students to select a specific place in their community, such as a river, ocean, or park. Then, have them complete a project that explains the importance of this landmark (e.g., its role in the environment and any benefits that it provides to other living creatures), how it has been impacted or harmed by people over time, and ideas for restorative actions. 

    For example, students might:
    • Write a haiku from the perspective of this place
    • Design a presentation (e.g., a flyer, poster, or slideshow)
    • Create artwork (e.g., a painting, collage, song, or dance)
  4. Invite students to present their projects to the class, and encourage them to share any personal emotions, opinions, or stories about their chosen landmark.
  5. Afterwards, engage students in a 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 peers from their projects? Did you discover any similarities between your values, ideas, and hopes?
    • Is there a way that our class could work together to take action?

If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...

Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call. 
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.

If students in either class don’t have individual devices...

Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.  
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.

If you prefer not using Kahoot!...

Use this document (Spanish version) to prompt students.