Teaching Students through Nature
6 Nov 2020

There’s Treasure Everywhere: Teaching Students through Nature

I’ve always loved reading Calvin & Hobbes.

As a kid, I laughed at the crazy adventures Calvin would get into with his incredible stuffed tiger. As an adult, I can’t help but smile at the charm and wisdom Bill Waterson gave to each panel. In fact, just the other day I stumbled upon one of my favorite strips.

In it, Hobbes finds Calvin digging a hole in the backyard. When asked what he’s doing, Calvin responds that he’s, “looking for buried treasure.” So, what did he find? A few dirty rocks, a weird root, and some disgusting grubs.

Now, to many this seems like worthless junk, but Hobbes is ecstatic. “On your first try?” he exclaims. “There’s treasure everywhere!” replies Calvin.

Stepping Outside

This has been an incredibly difficult year for teachers. COVID-19 has kept most of us indoors and forced us to adapt our lessons to virtual learning. This hasn’t just been hard on us; it’s been hard on our students as well. Studies have shown that K–5 students thrive when given the opportunity for unstructured play. To be confined indefinitely is taking a toll on their academic skills as well as their social-emotional learning.

That’s why many teachers have started turning to the outdoors. Becky Schnekser, a 5th grade teacher and author of the Blue Apple project What’s in Your Water, recently shared how one day after a heavy rain, her students explored water pools. Another educator recounted how her class had an engaging day of STEM learning thanks to a frog found on the playground. It turns out Calvin is right, there really is treasure everywhere.

So, how do we as educators share this wealth with our students?

Wild Green Yonder

Give your students the opportunity to explore the outdoors (while still practicing safe social distancing). Here are just a few ideas to help you start teaching students through nature.

  • Questions and Wonderings: Why do leaves change color in the fall? Why do pine trees stay green all year round? Why do geese fly in a V formation? Young students are naturally inquisitive. Let them think out loud and consider the world around them. These questions and wondering can serve as the basis for a practical, engaging lesson. Let your students interact with nature and see what they discover!
  • Sustaining State: What’s special about your state? Is there a particular animal that can only be found there? What plants or flowers are unique to your home? Introduce your students to the local flora and fauna, then have them brainstorm ways to protect it! Not only does this teach students about building sustainable environments, but it also encourages them to make positive change.
  • Weather Erosion: Wind, rain, and sunlight can have a dramatic effect on buildings and landscapes. Task your students with finding evidence of weather erosion around their neighborhood. Which weather phenomenon appears to have the greatest impact on your community? You could even have students create a topographical map to show how your neighborhood has been changed!
Breath of Fresh Air

In the end, we want our students to be more like Calvin. We want them to look at the world with curiosity and wonder. Because there really is treasure everywhere, and by teaching students through nature, we help them develop the skills to find it. Let’s get out there and find a fortune!

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe during this difficult time. For more free educational resources, or ideas on how to promote healthy Social-Emotional Learning, simply follow this link!