The other day, I took a group of 4th Graders exploring in the brackish waters of the Meadowlands. We were in search of fish, crabs, eels, grass shrimp, turtles, and other organisms that call the salt marsh home. In a short time our buckets were loaded with Killifish, Blue Crabs, and Grass Shrimp. The students were thrilled even though they were wet, filthy and were not smelling like roses. I had a student who had never been fishing before and started the day a little “too cool for school” catch a fish and hold it in his hands. He had an ear to ear smile and so did I!
Not too long ago the area we were exploring was an open landfill. It took public outcry, people working together, and few decades worth of time to transform the dumping grounds into the environmental learning center and nature preserve that it is today. Seeing the fish in the students hand and his joy left me marveling at the resilience of nature and at the possibilities for transformation once destructive behaviors are changed. Okay, now let’s get back to that directive.
Why should you let Nature be your classroom and guide? The simple answer is Nature is really, really good for us! We know intuitively that nature is restorative, healing, inspiring, and vital to our wellbeing. Healthy and happy people tend to miss less work, are more creative, productive, and therefore beneficial to the economy and to the world at large. We also know how easy it is to forget this knowledge and to adopt a viewpoint that sees time spent in nature as wasted, unproductive, or “just playing around.” Thanks to the tireless work of individuals such as Richard Louv and organizations like the Children and Nature Network we are starting to remember.
Richard Louv’s landmark book, “Last Child In the Woods,” and his most recent works “The Nature Principal,” and “Vitamin N” helped launch a global conversation focused on the value of nature and free play and their connection to creating a healthy, happy, and productive society. The fruits of this movement can be seen in the rise of school garden programs, green school initiatives and in health care. As you know from Part 1, Doctors are even prescribing time in nature as therapeutic treatments! Click this link to read about the connection between nature time and treating anxiety.
Connections are also being made between time spent in nature “playing around “and academic success. This article titled “Want Your Kids To Get Into Harvard? Tell’Em To Go Outside!” addresses this topic in detail. If you ever get critics who argue that science is best learned in the lab, remind them of Sir Isaac Newton and his little discovery while sitting under an apple tree!
Where to get started? You don’t have to travel to Yellowstone National Park (but you should) to experience the benefits of the great outdoors. It does not matter if your school is in the mountains, country, suburbs or in the city because nature is everywhere! Eagles are in Staten Island , coyotes in Central Park, squirrels, pigeons, plants and insects can be found no matter where you live. So many amazing things happen in our environments all the time, but we miss them. We are so focused on our various screens, on books, and looking straight ahead that we are oblivious to the activity that occurs right outside our windows and doors.
So where should you go to start your nature journey? Your Own Backyard! The best place to start your nature training is in your own backyard or local park if you don’t have a yard.
How To Start? Take time everyday to sit outside and observe your surroundings. Don’t bring your phone, books, or anything; just sit and pay attention using all of your senses. Once you are able to relax and bring your mind to the present moment, you will be amazed at what you can see! Experiment with different points of view. Try lying on your stomach and just observe the earth beneath your face. Soon you will see just how much life exists in a square foot of earth, amazing!
Once you have thoroughly explored your yard you can venture off to your nearest park and continue your observations. Getting to know your local parks might become such a joy that you won’t feel the need to travel very far this summer, which can save you some money. You might want to put some of that money towards some great books that will deepen your appreciation for nature. (Or you could just go to the library, much cheaper!)
Great Books To Deepen Your Nature Appreciation
Crow Planet, A Sand Count Almanac, The Practice of The Wild, The Spell of The Sensuous, The Tracker, What The Robin Knows, and Tracking and The Art of Seeing are some good books to start with. After reading these books and exploring your local parks you still might want more knowledge. Well, maybe you were really good at saving money this past year because of all the great resources you discovered at TeacherCents (shameless plug) and have some extra capital to invest in yourself? Why not put that money towards learning from some experts? You might even get your school to pay for some of it if you can convince them it is for Professional Development.
Learn From Experts: If you are looking to enhance your training and nature skills consider learning from experts in the field. The following are some programs worth looking into: Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, Practical Primitive, Flying Deer Nature Center, White Pine Programs, Hawk Circle, Wilderness Awareness School, and Wild Earth. If any of those programs are too far for you, chances are there are similar programs near you. Just do a simple internet search and see what you find.
Things You’ve Never Done Before
You might get so into this new pursuit that you find yourself doing things you never dreamed of, like covering yourself with mud, walking barefoot through the woods, making animal calls, climbing trees, making things crafted from materials you found in nature, finding beauty in things you previously took for granted and much more. Your blood pressure might improve, your waistline become smaller, your body become stronger, all of these are possibilities. Heck, you might even sign up to be a contestant on Naked and Afraid! That might be a little too extreme…
Are you getting excited to begin your explorations and pursuit to become more nature smart? Are you getting ideas to share with your students? Or you might be thinking that this is all well and good, but how will you find the time to bring more nature observation and outdoor activities into your already packed classroom schedule. Don’t worry! In part 3 we will look into some easy ways to achieve this goal. Until then, happy exploring! Oh, by the way what did you see in the picture towards the end of this post? Your first tracking test!
Thank you for reading and for sharing this post with others. We look forward to hearing your thoughts, questions, and ideas below and let us know what you saw in the picture.