Nature is the Thing
Seventh-Day Adventists have long known of the value of outdoor education. Ellen White wrote extensively on the need for young children to play outdoors, on the lessons to be learned through nature, and on the importance of working in a garden. “Next to the Bible,” she wrote, “nature is to be our great lesson book “(White).
But outdoor education predates Ellen White. The Bible is full of the beauty of God’s creation and the lessons it teaches. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” proclaim the scriptures, and any child of God standing beneath the heavens can agree. Jesus taught in parables using flowers, birds, and farming as illustrations. The Psalmist wrote often of the beauties of nature and our understanding of and interaction with God as a result. Even God, in the book of Job, used nature to help Job’s friends understand His own greatness and unfathomable beauty. Nature is God’s gift to us, an expression of Himself to his children. It is a lesson book, too, reminding us constantly of the great controversy going on between good and evil, of the fall of our world, and of God’s redemptive love. We are drawn close to God as we spend time there. He becomes personal when we look into the depths of a lily or study the intricate design of a spider web. Children are by nature intensely interested in God’s creation. It is my pleasure to include nature as an important part of our classroom.
The good news is that the rest of the world is finally catching on! Research abounds underscoring the need to get children outdoors and moving. Studies have shown a correlation between exercise and brain structure, and active play has been shown to improve executive function and concentration, both of which are vital for school success (Renolds).
“Risky play” refers to the exciting play of children where there is possible risk of injury. Risk is not the goal, but natural, lively play is. A growing body of research highlights the need for children to play without constant safety concerns. The tight safety restrictions our society has allowed to accumulate due to litigation has negatively impacted childhood and, ultimately, our society. It is rumored that some schools have made rules against even running on the playground for fear someone will fall and hurt themselves! That is perhaps an extreme example, but our everyday decisions about children’s play need to take into account that children learn by experience, and a few normal bumps and bruises cannot be avoided. Research has also shown that risky play does not create any more injuries in children who engage in risky play than in sedentary children (Yates). While reasonable safety precautions must be in place, we want to allow children to be children.
Outdoor education opens the door to learning about the broader world. It includes everything from forest play to field trips to STEM projects to any quality hands-on learning. It is not limited to being outdoors. Outdoor education is a methodology that makes learning real. Sometimes it means bringing the greater world into the classroom.
The secular outdoor movement is fueled partly by the need to reconnect ourselves with nature. The idea is that children who experience nature will love it, and those who love nature will care for the environment. As Seventh-
Day Adventist Christians, we believe in stewardship of the earth. Caring for God’s creation is a form of respect for its Creator, and while we may not agree with every nuance of the current outdoor education movement, especially those that involve New Age thought, we believe in outdoor education. We want to embrace a methodology that began in Eden, is highlighted throughout the Bible, and is embedded even in the roots of our church.
It is my goal to keep students outside and learning as much as possible, to keep them active, to make learning engaging and fun, to respect the needs of our youngest children, and to meet the Creator in the classroom He designed.
Reynolds, G. (2014). How exercise can boost young brains. New York Times online athttp://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/how-exercise-can-boost-the-childs-brain/?_r=0
White, E.G. (1954). Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students. 54.
Yates, M. and Brussoni, M. (2016). The importance of children’s risky play. Green Teacher. (109). 3-7.