Many of us have heard the metaphor, ‘our education is planting the seeds for the future,’ or something similar or maybe not! Regardless, I believe this needs to be taken more literally. The metaphorical seeds should include literal seeds. Humans and our environment are partners in a mutually eternal relationship; however, the harmony has been disrupted because of industrial neglect amongst other causes. We must teach the balance and sustainable treatment of the planet and mustn’t forget that environmental education is also under the umbrella of peace education. If teachers can keep this in mind, student’s learning will breach the walls of the confining classroom. The world will become their natural classroom, always available for exploration and discovery.
This focus on the natural world was also a critical philosophy of Maria Montessori.
“It is also necessary for his physical development to place the soul of the child in contact with creation, in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the directly education forces of living nature.”
– Maria Montessori
We should teach to this kind of connection. Outdoor education is often survival or work based, a get your hands dirty kind of approach. The time spent doing these activities outdoors will help rebuild this relationship.
Outdoor education requires children to use all 5 senses and think about the world around them. They will learn to explore, discover, and reflect. Unstructured outdoor education will allow for the student to become independent. Outdoor education gets students physically active and our shown to be more nutrition savvy. Recess is a perfect example and oftentimes very profound interpersonal lessons are taught on the playground, however recess is often taken away earlier on in a child’s education. For the sake of environmental education, the playground should remain natural as opposed to manufactured products.
After a bought of outdoor kinetics, a teacher can switch into classroom mode again without going back into the classroom! Math and English, two subjects that we might think are impossible to be taught outside can be taught outdoors as well. Math can be taught be adding and subtracting pine-cones and sticks and drawing out the equations with chalk for example. English can be taught by prompting students to reflect on their outdoor experience. Also, reading outside and holding lessons outdoors as much as possible is an great way to reap the benefits of the natural world – this was always a exciting option for me as a young learner.
What if it’s raining? In that case the inside of the classroom should have a similar feel.
More plants! Raymond De Young, an environmental psychologist at the University of Michigan, believes in the power of plants to bring peace. “I have one colleague who, whenever she’s going into a very important meeting, places a small potted plant on the center of the table. She says it has a really calming effect on everyone around.” Plants also help with preventing illness. Teachers have the option to incorporate live fauna in the classroom. Maybe have the students water the plants? Start a garden? The symbolism behind the growth of a plant can be related to the growth and progress of the child. It’s no different then having a pet in the classroom.
Open the windows! Let it shine. Not only is sunlight in the classroom healthy but research has shown that those who sit next to windows are happier, more enthusiastic, more calm, and more productive. Those plants you brought in are going to need some UV rays!
Don’t stop there! We love to fill our lives with images of the natural world, from cave paintings, to our computer desktop, to our fairy tales and folk stories. Placing more images of the planets natural wonders inside the classroom will keep students curious and connected with the diversity of the outside world they are in a serious relationship with.
Get moving! Make movement and music a priority within the classroom as well. Music can be easily incorporated into learning and research proves music’s contribution to positive child development. This helps students express themselves emotionally and stimulates creativity and imagination. Music can be included to enhance other subject areas as well. Choreograph a dance? Bring in natural instruments? “This land is your land” is a song with a lot of history and a very peaceful message. These sorts of things you never forget, as a student and a teacher.
Here are some other ways to breach the walls of the classroom and pedagogically implement natural elements.
What can teachers do today?
Pick some of the previous suggestions and take action! Teachers have control over the structure of their classroom and what is included. Students depend on the teacher to create for them a rich and diverse learning environment. Music, movement, and nature cannot be overlooked. This is proving to be dangerous and unproductive. I remember an exercise from the ‘Peace Education Exploratorium’ I attended a couple weeks back where the instructor pushed us outside into a cold field and had us walk around thinking about the environment. She was simultaneously playing relaxing music and I can honestly say a connection was established, if only for a brief moment. The naturalist inside of me was satisfied.
What an educator can do for tomorrow?
Environmental Psychology is an emerging field, which seeks to study built and natural environments and how they influence human behavior, and is great for the creative educator’s inquiring mind. We need to design future schools and classrooms in a way that embraces the exuberance and freedom of being a child, while rebuilding the bridge between the environment and us. The classrooms of the future allow for the extension of learning outside the walls of the classroom and for the inclusion of the outside world within the classroom.
Who will benefit?
Children and teachers will benefit from embracing a more natural learning environment. Children learn more from the actions of adults rather than their words. A teacher cannot effectively incorporate any of the previous recommendations without fully believing in and understanding music and movement as healthy expressions of emotions and the outdoors as an infinite classroom. A teacher must be an authentic role model and teachers will conversely share in the learning if they are willing. But, our home, our planet, the extension of our bodies, and the canvas for our lives, will appreciate it the most.
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
– Mahatma Ghandi
They are one in the same.