Toastmaster Humorous Speech: How to Get Your Kids to Love Nature: Don’t Do What I Did


Becki loves nature- everything about it- the beauty, the vibrancy, flowers, bird, and animals. So, why was it so hard to get her children to feel the same way about it? Here she tells you what she did wrong- maybe others can learn from her mistakes

Note: Unedited version- forgive the mistakes

Our friends were visiting from Washington DC and they brought their fifth and eighth grade daughters. They wanted to go hiking. And I wondered. How do they do it- get their kids to love to hike in nature?

It had worked for me when they were little, but as they grew up…. well you can imagine, just imagine!

One time, it is a warm spring afternoon and I managed to drag out my 11 year old daughter. The hills were a rich green sprawling before us, sprinkled with orange California poppies and sunny yellow buttercups. I stretched my arms out and breathed deeply (take a deep breath), “Isn’t is a glorious day for a hike?”
(vocal variety) “No” says my 13 year old daughter,….. “no, do we have to go? I hate to walk and even worse walking uphill. Can’t I just go to San Francisco today, to a show with my friends? ”

“Come on, just a short hike.” And so, we begin hiking up the hill. And to survive this hike to get and forget that each step was torture, I started singing. First it So, I start singing to keep her going “The hills are alive, with the sound of music….” She squeaks out a tiny laugh, panting.
Then I sang “oh sole mio” and between pants she started to join me “La, la, la, la, la, la, la”

Long pause

My purpose here is to help any young parents or grandparents in Lakeview Toastmasters not make the same mistakes that I did as you try to instill the love of nature in children- based on what I did wrong. Which seems to be everything. (pause)

How many of you have young children? Good, so listen carefully.
How many of you have teenagers? Oh you poor folks- there still might be a chance
And grandchildren: you might be able to salvage their love of nature somehow.
Any of you hope to have kids in the futre or grandkids in the future?

When I break it down, there are three main rules. First off: Don’t marry someone who hates to walk (this might be a lost cause already). Second: Don’t move to where every hike starts out uphill, and Third: don’t live near a fabulous and alluring city- which we all do- but there is still time to move- take heed.

Let me take you back. When my husband, Rito and I were newly in love, we worked together. One day on a trip to a Miskitu Indian village in the warm tropical forest of northern Nicaragua we snuck off for a short walk on a tiny little creek. There we sat quietly in the cool waters and saw a tree with 12 toucans sitting in it. It was a spectacular sight, their bright clown-colored beaks with brillant green and orange, their black bodies and bright yellow chests and red rumps. Rito and I both loved nature and knew this man would make a great father for my children.
Before we met, I had backpacked in the redwoods and sierras, hiked volcanoes, and fallen in love with the rain forest. When we had kids, of course, I wanted to transmit this love of the earth. He loved animals and I assumed that would make for a perfect Swiss Family Robinson. But I forgot to make sure he liked to hike.

And now, I would like to tell what really happened.
Yes, as I said, my husband and I both love nature. On every vacation we went camping in all the great national parks. “Let’s go for a hike.” I would say.

He would immediately interject “Who doesn’t want to take a hike, raise your hand?” And of course up goes his hands and those of all three children. Well, Becki, “majority rules, four against one.” So, we viewed the animals from the car. We saw bears in Yosemite, buffalo in Yellowstone, elk at Rocky Mountain park- along with a million others who made long traffic jams as the stopped in the middle of the road to snap a picture of the wild animals. Rule number one: Don’t marry someone who hates to walk.

So, OK, Rito won’t walk, but we will move to somewhere beautiful. The kids will be able to see green hills while playing in the school yard and I can take them into the hills for long walks right out of the house. In case you don’t know, I found that in El Sobrante. We moved to a street just below Wildcat Canyon Park, where we live to this day. But, there was one problem. Every walk was straight uphill for at least the first 30 minutes and the “let’s sing opera” trick only worked once! So, my second rule: Don’t move somehwere that requires walking straight uphill- that opera trick only works once.

Now El Sobrante was a great place to raise kids. It was near San Francisco where my husband worked, just 20 minutes when there was no traffic (hah). And that brings me to rule three: don’t buy a house near an amazing and alluring city like San Francisco. It is just too tempting. And now my kids are all grown, and guess what they love to do together, go to drag shows.

So, if any of you are considering ways to get you kids or grand-kids to love nature- first- don’t marry someone who hates to walk. Second, don’t start every walk straight uphill. And third, get the hell out of the bay area, because a walk in the hills is no competition for a great day in the City!

I learned from my visiting friends what you should do instead: Offer the kids a dollar if they are the first to spot an animal. Offer a measly dollar. It seemed to work. The sullen 8th grader. was told, “instead of staring at the ground- stare down at the water” and sure enough, she was the first to spot a whale. And guess who was the second who wanted a dollar for spotting an otter on the banks of the San Pablo dam? ( pause) My husband.


If I live, I’ll be Great: Diary of a First Year Teacher


If I live, I’ll be great: Diary of a First Year Teacher


Lakeview Toastmasters, Oakland, CA

January 30, 2014

Speech delivered by Becki Cohn-Vargas

[Pretend to read from diary]


September 9, 1986, Oakland, CA

Dear Diary

Today is my first day as a classroom teacher. I will have 31 Spanish-Bilingual first graders.  I planned a packed day with so many things to do that I could teach for a week. Then I had a nightmare last night that I was getting dressed and was so nervous that I forgot to put on my dress. I got to school and suddenly found myself teaching in my slip- and what’s more, I forgot my lesson plan and could not remember what I was going to teach.


I am 35 years old and have been around so it shouldn’t be that hard. I am a seasoned professional. I lived in Guatemala and had driven ambulances and in Nicaragua worked for the National Ministry of Education and I produced educational television shows. This should not be so hard.


September 11,

Dear Diary, My first day was a disaster. Nobody told me it would be 31 against one. Well, to be honest, most of the kids were OK, except for 5 of them. Ignacio kept fighting with Sergio. Raul kept bouncing out of his seat. Ariel called out every five minutes. And you should have heard Magdalena scream when somebody bumped her.


I have a new favorite song, “If I live, I’ll be Great” sung by Chris Williamson.



My first year of teaching was one prolonged nightmare and when I pinched myself, I did not wake up. Who would think that those five kids in my class could turn me into a blubbering piece of mush? 


I knew that the first thing a teacher needs to do is to be able to get the class quiet. I tried all kinds of techniques. Dramatize this story Flick the lights. Have someone flick lights and then turn off and on as I speak. OK, I would flick the lights. Nothing happened. So then I turned the lights out and the portable would go dark. Ignacio would scream out “ooo” and everyone laughed. “Quiet” I screamed. Flash, I popped the lights back on so I could see who was making the noise.  And they froze and went silent for a second. But like clockwork, Ariel poked Magdalena on the shoulder, she began to shriek and the hubbub started all over again.


Other times, I was just too exhausted to get them quiet. I would keep talking while they did and try to teach reading. Not a good plan if you wanted anyone to learn anything. Their antics and show was much more entertaining than mine.



So, I tried what they called “positive reinforcement.” I would call it bribes with M&Ms. I would say “I like the way the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle group is sitting”- Everyone suddenly sat up with hands folded, absolute angels. I handed M&Ms to each perfect little group. But by the time all had eaten their candy the roar began again. And the fights. Joshua stabbed Freddy with a pencil. While I was stopping to deal with that, Magdalena pulled Nancy’s hair. My bag of M&Ms was getting low and my discipline system was still not working. The most humiliating part was that the Physical Education teacher would come in and they would automatically go quiet for him.


I thought to myself, I would like to see Ronald Reagan come in here and try to teach!


Maybe I just need some help. How about a student teacher? My friend Mario signed up. What did I know to share with Mario? I couldn’t control them and neither could he. And when his professor came to observe, “OMG” (well we never said that back then). A disaster and a total embarrassment. No more student teachers for me. Of course, they never should have placed him with a first year teacher in the first place.


The only time I could kind of get the kids to settle down was when I sang with them. One day after lunch was a good time to sing. I was pregnant that year and I was huge. We had these old fashioned wooden desks with the desk part attached to the chair. I was leaning precariously sitting on one with my guitar and boom, I crashed to the ground. And they all laughed. These little monsters!!!! I went home and cried. I wanted so much to be a teacher and I was failing so miserably.


I thought, OK, I will make the class so titillating that they will comply just out of sheer fascination. I had this great idea I learned about at a workshop to stimulate creative writing stories. I worked with some sixth graders to stage a scene as if aliens had come to school in their classroom during the night. They wrote on the board a message from the aliens. “Dear first graders, We came to visit you classroom and we really want to hear your stories. Love, the Aliens.” They wrote personal letters to each student. To make it more dramatic, they turned over chairs and desks and put footprints in green paint around the room on the floor and the walls.


My students walked into the class that day. Suddenly, their facial expressions went from surprise to horror. My little monsters were terrified. They all started to cry. The next day their parents came to complain that they had nightmares. 


I don’t know how I survived the year. I never was so happy for summer vacation to come.


The good news is that this story has a happy ending. I did learn to teach and so did Mario. He won awards as an excellent teacher of math. And I didn’t turn out so badly either. It was not one year, but over several that I got my “teacher voice” and built positive relationships of trust. The students quieted down and engaged with the curriculum I even I wrote a book about identity safe classrooms. ( The book  gives examples of classrooms of teachers who create environments where students are proud of their identities, excited about learning, and empathetic toward one another- without bribes and M&Ms.


January 24, 2014 Kean University, New Jersey

Dear Diary,

I am giving my first keynote about my book. Last night, I had a nightmare, I dreamed that I started with a film and then couldn’t stop the DVD and so I never got to give my speech. Who knew, I would be here today back then at La Escuelita with my wild and wonderful students in my first year?

I still love that song “If I live I’ll be Great.” I may never be great, but maybe being great is about surviving and living to tell the tale.