Outdoor Education at Rockford Christian: Slow Down... To See The World
AUTHOR: Phil Warners — Outdoor Education Director, Rockford Chrisitan School
Slow Down... To See The World
This slogan appears on a T-shirt I own and wear to school every so often. As the new Director of Outdoor Education at Rockford Christian School, this mantra is more than just a slogan. It has, in fact, become a motto for me and my students, one that I remind them of often.
This year, at Rockford Christian School, I have the privilege of assisting to reshape our school into more of an environmentally-aware and environmentally-active campus.
On paper, my schedule calls for me to see each class one time per week (K-4 for 45 minutes each and grades 5-8 for a block time of 1:40 each). If one does the math, it could be interpreted that I have more free time than the average classroom teacher. During such times, I have been busy assisting in the transformation:
- We are developing three different nature trails on our campus, complete with signage and open spaces dedicated as outdoor classrooms;
- We have installed a nature-based playscape complete with climbing trees and tunnels that are now being landscaped and finalized;
- We have made connections with neighbors, school families, and outside agencies to build into our curriculum different experiences for students;
- We are maintaining our relationship with Camp Roger who has graciously allowed our students to visit and use their land for further learning;
- We are making plans to build a Native American village;
- We are continually seeking new ways for our students to be immersed in the wonders of God’s created world.
While all of that is important, the true value of what I do is in the eyes of the students. When students are allowed to slow down and see the world, they are impressed by the God who is the artist of it all.
Corina brought in a robin’s nest she had found.
Liam brought in a fish he caught that now lives in our indoor fish pond.
Charlee caught a toad and now watches him closely as he gets used to the other toads we have.
Miles and Amira and Sam and Addie were with me as we fed the snakes, the turtles, the bearded dragons, and the toads that all live in our room.
And Ivy cried when school was canceled because of a power outage that occurred on the day her class was scheduled to come to Outdoor Ed.
In our busy lives, we miss out on these moments.
In our educational system, we can feel like we don’t have the time for such things because we as teachers are busy with state standards, data collection, lesson planning, committees, standardized testing, and the like. The implicit message in all of this that our children can gather is that we don’t have time to be curious as we get older because we have to stay busy.
But to truly begin to understand and marvel at the beauty surrounding us, we have to slow down.
“I wonder why…” are the first three words of many of my sentences. “That is amazing!” is how I often end conversations with students. As each grade level journeys through the year, and are involved volunteer projects, service learning, overnight experiences, and adopting various parks as our own — we must always allow the curiosity of the students to be encouraged and, for some, be relearned.
When we slow down, allow children to do the work of clearing trails and reseeding and feeding the animals, their appreciation for such things will only grow. “Slow down...to see the world.”
We should all try it more often.
Here are photos of Rockford Christian 6th grade students working to prepare their own landfill spaces that will be unearthed next year as part of their conversations about recycling and biodegradability.