Time Travelers: Jane Goodall

It’s hard not to adore Jane Goodall. So you can imagine how delighted I was to share one of my all-time favorite human beings with my students in our first class of Time Travelers this session. Our curriculum this time around is centered entirely around famous people throughout history and we will be meeting a new historical figure each week! What better way to kick-start this voyage of discovery than with this preeminent primatologist, anthropologist and conservationist.

Jane Goodall has devoted her life to the study and protection of chimpanzees, and all endangered animals. She spent the better part of her life in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, Africa – learning all about her favorite animals and working to keep them safe for all time. Jane Goodall always knew she wanted to spend her life studying these fascinating creatures – she even had a stuffed animal chimpanzee named Jubilee as a child. (She still has Jubilee today.)

Jane & Jubilee

After family friends invited her to visit their farm in Kenya, Jane took it upon herself to reach out to the inimitable Dr. Louis Leakey who, in one of the best decisions of his life, chose to take the young Miss Goodall under his genius wing and offer her the chance of a lifetime – to study the chimpanzees in the Gombe area. Thus, armed with little more than her brilliant mind and a collection of sturdy shoes and notebooks, Jane embarked on a journey that would span a lifetime. She diligent and lovingly documented the movements of these amazing animals, slowly learning their trust.

photo courtesy of National Geographic

Jane was the first to witness and record chimpanzees building and utilizing tools for their own purposes – having watched as a chimp crafted a stick into an instrument for collecting ants. “It’s like an ant fork!” said one of my students. She watched as chimpanzees exhibited affection, anger, loyalty and curiosity for the world around them. As time went by, she named the chimpanzees, learning their personalities and watching generations of these beautiful animals face the ever-threatening chill of extinction.

Today, Jane continues her work on behalf of her beloved animals – running the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots and Shoots, her organization dedicated to getting young people involved in saving the world’s resources.

In class today, we looked at a map of Africa to see where Jane began her research and read my all-time favorite book about Jane titled, appropriately, Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell. If you haven’t yet taken a peek at this gorgeous book it is certainly worth a read. The illustrations alone are an absolute delight.

We met a few of Jane’s favorite chimps – Old Flo, David Greybeard and little Flint – and discovered how she was able to get so close to these wild animals. We even learned a few pieces of chimpanzee communication and watched a brief interview with Jane from National Geographic. I wanted the children to be sure to see and hear her speak – she’s so inspirational. They were riveted!

Then, each child drew a picture and wrote a letter to Jane, asking her questions, telling her about themselves – and I mailed those letters this morning. Here are a few samples…

I’m crossing my fingers that she will write back…giving not only my students, but me, the thrill of a lifetime.


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