“Connected and honored, natural teachers could inspire other teachers; they could become a galvanizing force within their schools. In the process, they would contribute to their own psychological, physical, and spiritual health.” — The Nature Principle
Not long ago, I was speaking with a middle school principal in Austin who was sympathetic to the cause, but felt overwhelmed by all the demands that he and his colleagues already face. “Look, you want me to add this to my plate when it’s already overflowing?” he said. “I can’t do this without outside help.”
He was right. Bringing the classroom to nature and nature to the classroom is an enormous task, and educators need community and political support. Schools, businesses and outdoor organizations can work together to introduce students to nature centers and parks, and sponsor or promote overnight camping trips. Parent-teacher groups can raise financial support for field trips and nature programs; they can sponsor family nature nights at schools; they can give awards to those teachers who, year after year, get their students outside.
To get started (and keep going), check out C&NN’s synthesis of some of the best research on how nature time stimulates learning and helps educators, assembled by Cheryl Charles, Ph.D, and Alicia Senauer of Yale University. The C&NN site is also packed with positive examples of what schools are doing around the U.S. and Canada and in other countries as well. Another resource is C&NN’s recommended reading list, which describes a number of books on place-based and nature-based learning by such authors as David Sobel, Louise Chawla, Robin Moore, Joseph Cornell, Jon Young, Ken Finch and others.
Through C&NN, you can also become a Natural Teacher. Many educators, especially new teachers, feel inadequately trained to give their students an outdoors experience. But by networking, teachers can share ideas, support each other, and know they’re not alone.
While we’re on this topic of teachers organizing teachers, here’s another notion: Why not start a nature club for teachers? That’s a suggestion from Robert Bateman, the famous Canadian wildlife artist who launched his Get-to-Know campaign in Canada and the U.S. to connect kids to nature. Through such clubs, Bateman says, teachers who are experienced in nature could organize half-day hikes each month with other teachers.
C&NN isn’t the only resource for natural teachers. Other organizations that offer excellent resources for schools that want to get their students outside include the National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Refuges, which provide professional development programs that have been correlated to public school curriculum standards. To green your schoolyard, tap the knowledge of such programs as Evergreen in Canada, and National Wildlife Federation’s Schoolyard Habitats and the Natural Learning Initiative, and check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide.
Don’t forget the school library. For ideas on how to naturalize your school library and how library systems can become information hubs on life in the surrounding bioregion, click here.
These are just a few examples of the resources available for educators who want to connect their students to nature. Here’s an added incentive. Want to avoid teacher burnout? Canadian researchers report that teachers who get their students – and themselves – outdoors can reignite their own energy and enthusiasm for teaching.
Every teacher can become a natural teacher.
Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. His newest book is “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He is also the author of “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS”, which includes a Field Guide of 100 Actions for families, teachers, and communities.