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What Do We Need to Live on Planet Earth?
Comprehensive Unit

Grade Level



1995 (59 pages)


Softcover $29.95

Historians and anthropologists provide a lens that allows us to see the history of humankind from a vantage point outside our daily existence. This lens gives us insights into the causes and consequences of our immediate actions; it allows us to make connections between those actions and the past and the future.

-Lucía Nuñez, Coordinator

Latin America Project, SPICE, 1993


Migration From Latin America

Young children are increasingly conscious of the issues in the world that impact their lives and their environment. They are exposed daily to "doomsday" predictions in the media and are very aware of the problems facing our planet. Students are eager to participate in activities that address issues of maintaining life on earth and which give them in some small way the means to shape their future.

The struggle to survive is a fundamental human impulse. This unit is designed to contribute further to environmental studies curriculum by examining the question: "What are some of the basic things all living organisms need to live?" The six activities in this unit are based on the concept that all living things exist in relationship to one another, sharing a need for food, water, shelter and a need to communicate in some way with other animals and their surrounding environment. This unit does not present students with a list of necessities for life, but instead, requires them to think critically and decide for themselves what are basic needs.

The unit focuses on the lifestyles of two social groups in East Africa: the traditional nomadic Masai (Muh-séye) and the traditional agrarian Kikuyu (Kee-koó-yoo). The activities engage students in an exploration of the dynamic interactions between these people and the animals that share the same land. The unit emphasis is intended to provide a lens through which students may examine the concept of survival through a vantage point outside of their daily reality; such a perspective can expand their knowledge about themselves and their relationship to the diverse world in which they live.

Since this unit focuses on the "traditional" lifestyles of two social groups in East Africa, it is important for the teacher to discuss with the students what is meant by "traditional" so as not to foster stereotypes. "Traditional" in this unit generally refers to lifestyles not altered excessively by influences of modernization and industrialization. "Traditional" does not mean "never changing"; it is important for students to understand that all cultures naturally change and progress over time, although the rate of change may increase as cultures come into greater contact with each other.

All people who are from Kikuyu and Masai backgrounds do not live in traditional ways- many live and work in cities as do people the world over. Traditional rural lifestyles are often difficult, requiring a constant effort to meet basic human requirements. Life in the cities, for most people, may also be seen as a challenging environment where basic needs must be met in other ways. The every-day issues of city living and urban survival found in countries around the world are present in East African cities. Common to all of these diverse lifestyles is the human condition; through the exploration of such diversity, students and teachers may find new understandings and solutions to some common human problems.

Unit Goals

Through exploring what humans and other animals need to live, students will:

  • examine basic needs from various perspectives
  • recognize that all living things have common, basic needs
  • explore lifestyles different from their own
  • seek answers to open-ended questions
  • be encouraged to think critically
  • make inferences based on information they collect
  • have opportunities to learn using the auditory, visual and kinesthetic modalities by speaking, reading, writing, listening and manipulating materials in meaningful ways

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