Things I Know 104 of 365: I learned outside

I went into the woods to live deliberately.

– Henry Davi Thoreau, Walden

I grew up surrounded by nature.

When I was younger, I’d go visit my grandparents and explore the farm that has been in my family since my ancestors settled in Illinois over 150 years ago.

When I entered fifth grade, we moved outside of Springfield and my postage stamp yard was suddenly 5 acres.

Many a shoe or shirt or pair of shorts was sacrificed to the mud I inexplicably fell into while playing in the creek that ran along our property line.

When I got back from South Africa last summer and was emotionally drained, I set out to the woods of New Hampshire and then Acadia National Park to remember who I was.

Tomorrow, two teachers, ten SLA juniors and I will make our way to Arizona and then Utah for camping and rafting down the San Juan River.

I cannot wait.

Last year, when the students saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, one commented, “I looks like a screen saver.”

I know I’m biased, but there’s immeasurable value in outdoor education.

Encouraging kids to recycle is much easier when they’ve experienced an environment beyond sidewalks and streetscapes.

Students will exist sans cell or iPod for a week. They’ll breathe air cleaner than they’ve ever experienced and they’ll get to know the planet.

Mr. Trueblood required all of his advanced biology students to curate leaf collections of at least 40 species of trees when I was in high school. Later in the year, we took a quiz requiring us to identify species of local birds. Walking through a park is a different experience for me still.

And, while I don’t imagine our students will return able to tell an oak from a maple or a starling from a sparrow, they will come back knowing they’re connected to a larger system.

They’ll experience beauty beyond any painting they could ever find in a museum. They’ll hike and raft and explore.

When they get back, what they’ve learned about themselves and the world will be akin to what I learned on the farm and in the creek. They’ll know mess and the beauty of nature.

It should be a part of every child’s education.

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