Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. John Muir
I’ve offered professional development workshops for teachers that provided exploration of the landscape through art and writing. An antidote to the confines of a classroom and the busyness of life that keeps us plugged in and disconnected to the natural world, these workshops connected teachers to the natural world. Walking through mountain trails, teacher would draw plants and flowers, learning their names and purpose. At other times, we would sit in silence reveling in the beauty of nature drawing in all the sounds through our senses; these moments were then translated into small poems or haiku. These visual journals would provide a touchstone to teachers when they returned to their busy lives and reminded them of the deeper connection we all can have if we simply pause to reconnect. Richard Louv, in his important book, Last Child in the Woods, links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression; he calls it nature-deficit disorder. His research demonstrates the importance of direct exposure to the natural world for the health and well being of children and adults. In classrooms, we can cultivate experiences that connect our students to the world beyond the classroom by allowing them time outdoors or by bringing nature indoors. The famous painter, Georgia O’Keefe once said, “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” As a classroom activity, have your students draw plants and flowers that you bring into the classroom, or look at professional photographs of flowers and have students spend time “seeing” the flower and then drawing or painting the flower, perhaps even extending the activity and having students zoom in to see the details, drawing the tiny, microscopic details invisible to the hurried eye. Time in nature nourishes and renews by attuning you to the rhythms of the earth and creates an internal harmony that feeds your soul. If you are in a city, take a moment to pause, close your eyes and let your awareness be drawn by sounds and take in all that is around you. If you are fortunate to have a park or nature trail nearby, take a walk. Listen and breathe deeply and notice.
Take a photograph, paint a picture or write a poem to become a touchstone of this one moment in time. Notice how you feel when you are in nature. Try this with your students and notice their response. How does this experience support your well being in the classroom and beyond?
Sleeping in the Forest
a poem by Mary Oliver
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
IMAGE: Teacher Workshop: Exploring the Landscape through Art & Writing, Cullowhee, NC