Nature is our best teacher. Why outdoor education and reconnecting kids with nature is an educational imperative

“We must return to connecting with nature. Our children’s intellectual, spiritual and physical health depends on in”    - Louv

 

 

We are fortunate to live in this beautiful and diverse land of Chiapas, and this incredible country, Mexico. Chiapas is one of the most culturally, linguistically, biologically and ecologically diverse corners of this planet. We are fortunate and should be deeply grateful for the opportunity to live and learn in this great land, for our children to be able to experience it, and for the opportunity to lead a school that can take advantage of the natural and human diversity this region has to offer.

 

And yet we do not. Most of our children know very little of the natural wonders that surround them. They are hooked on to their ipads and cell phones, and they have limited experiences in the local forests, rivers, mountains and rich native American cultures that surround them. Our children are amazingly, and sadly, isolated from the rich natural and cultural diversity that surrounds them. This is a serious educational problem and one that we must remedy.

 

Louv, a great nature educator and philosopher, in his book "Last Child in the Woods” enumerated the accumulating research studies that show that urban children devoid of nature are less healthy, more overweight, more likely to suffer injuries, psychologically less competent and immature, academically less motivated and less successful, and less happy than kids raised immersed in nature. Kids with few experiences with nature are often depressed, are less intelligent, and have a weaker immune system, than kids raised in regular contact with nature. This has enormous implications for educational policy and practice. It suggests that experiential learning – learning that takes place outside the bound of a classroom and that puts children in direct contact with nature – in all its forms, must be a key component of attempts to improve and reform educational practices. Constructivist research points in the same direction: people learn best when they are interacting with the phenomena that are studying. Hands-on experiences are more durable and have stronger impacts than the passive learning of “chalk and talk” that predominates many classrooms.

 

Louv’s research further implies that Nature is out best teacher and that schools must learn to use this great outdoors as a classroom. This puts Chiapanecan schools, at an enviable advantage: we are blessed with the rich diversity of Chiapas as represented by: the rich variety of people, languages and cultures; the incredible biological, geological and ecological diversity, and its and complicated multicultural history. Schools must expand the frequency and quality of experiential learning activities, so we take full advantage of nature’s richness. Our students will learn better from this incredible natural, anthropological and historical reality that surrounds them. And as a secondary benefit the student will be healthier, happier and more focused.

 

This month schools MUST also recognize our species debt to Earth, and more broadly to NATURE. The last three centuries have seen our species assault the earth and our fellow inhabitants, the 30 million or so species that share this small blue speck we call Earth, in ways never before seen in the history of this planet. During this last century, a mere 100 years, we have done more damage to this planet than in the previous 2-3 million years of our species’ existence. And the Earth is now at a breaking point. We have deforested, polluted or destroyed more than 60% of the earth’s land surface. We have polluted virtually all our oceans, the vast majority of our rivers, and devastated virtually all aquatic life. We have altered the very chemical composition of our atmosphere and are now confronting human caused climatic changes that threatens human life in ways that are unimaginable to all of us.

 

This is a terrible legacy that we, my generation and the 10 or so generations of humans that preceded you, have left behind for future generations. It is a legacy I am not proud of. Indeed, I feel deeply embarrassed and sorrowed by it. It is a legacy that our children will inherit much faster than most of us can imagine possible. This is the biggest challenge that will confront future generation. What will they do? How will they respond? What can we do as a school, to prepare them for this future of environmental challenge?

 

This is one of the big questions that we must answer together, as we educate children, as we work to become an engine for innovation, and model of educational practices, that is rooted in future thinking, that is rooted our children’s future and that of this, our only planet.

 

As we move forward, schools must place at center stage of their curriculum, a commitment to an environmentally sustainable future. A commitment to the conservation and restoration of the ecosystems and diversity of life that surround and enriches us. Schools must become models of environmental education and sustainable green living practices. Schools must educate students, and through them, educate our communities, as we prepare for the enormous environmental challenges that the future will bring us. Schools must become models of education in action, that will empower our communities to react responsibly, as stewards of this beautiful and diverse region of the world, in all its ecological, geographic, anthropological and biological glory.

 

This is how we will thank Earth and our fellow species. It is also how we will preserve our own future, our health and indeed our own happiness. By educating ourselves on sustainable practices and an environmental ethics. By learning to conserve and restore nature…. By becoming better stewards of this our small blue dot of a planet.

 

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