Monday, May 4, 2009

Students in Nature’s Classroom

As we travel to different national parks and monuments, I always feel thrilled when I see young people experiencing this wonderful gift that we have. I also wonder how many people realize how lucky we are in the United States to have so many wonderful places. I love to meet people from other countries who are seeing my country for the first time and enjoying the beautiful parks that we have. If it hadn’t been for someone with a vision, these places would not have been protected over time. But what about the future? Are we instilling this same vision in the generations to come? How many of my students have never been to a park, or hiked, or experienced the outdoors? That is what scares me.

When I was growing up, I was expected to be a young lady and never get dirty. I was never allowed to do much outdoors but I wonder if it is because my parents had no experience with it either. Even now, I’m not sure my parents understand my love for the outdoors. As I see the world around me, I am constantly amazed at how this earth was made and continues to change. It helps me put my own life in perspective and see things in life differently. This made me wonder if my students did not have much experience outdoors because their parents did not have any experience either. Maybe their parents worked two jobs and it was all they could do to support their families. There could be many reasons for why my students had no clue about the outdoors.

This made me think that I had to offer opportunities for my students to experience nature. I began to look up websites but that would only let them see the outdoors on a virtual level. I began to look up hands on activities. I found courses like Project Learning Tree that offered lessons to use with my students. I joined a hiking club so I could learn more about the areas where I lived that I could share with my students. I began taking my class outdoors when the weather was nice to look at trees and plants and discuss what they saw outside. At the end of the school year, I always planned a hike in the state park which my students really enjoyed. Many of them had never been hiking or even seen a mountain before. Just to see their faces as they experienced this for the first time was extremely moving to me!

Many of my students thanked me for the opportunities and I hope I planted a seed. I hope their memories of what they did in my classroom would inspire them to continue with a relationship with nature and the outdoors. Hopefully a love for our earth would grow in their hearts and would be passed on to their children. I might not see the results of my teachings but hopefully the future will benefit and be more successful for the little part I played in this story.

Photo credit: Capitol Reef National Park by Pat Hensley


Anonymous said...

Loved the post Pat, thank you for another reminder that we are a part of, rather than apart from, the natural world surrounding us.

For those interested, read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods. He is chair of an organization worth checking out:

I also recommend Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program. too!(

Ben Wildeboer said...

Not exposing students to nature often enough is worrying to me as well- especially because those experiences can be so powerful and meaningful to the students.

As always, it's better to do (be outside in nature) than just hear about (be in class learning about nature).

Good post. Thanks for sharing!

The Book Chook said...

Great post. I worry about litigation etc daunting teachers from taking kids outside. Every single time I took my classes out of the classroom, I could feel their joy, and their engagement switch on.

Kids nowadays don't get to roam the way kids of my generation did. I think it's so beneficial when school can provide safe outdoor learning experiences.

loonyhiker said...

@edventures: Thanks for the links. These were wonderful!

loonyhiker said...

@Ben: Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reading!

loonyhiker said...

@The Book Chook: I think as long as they had their administrator's approval and they didn't do anything dangerous, they would be covered by insurance. I did have a student who was allergic to bees and we did carry his bee kit with us.