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


4 thoughts on “Nature

  1. These images are from a Landscape lesson I recently did with second grade students. Adapting a lesson idea from one of my colleagues – (thank you, Elise Bothel!) – I shared with my students black and white nature photography by Ansel Adams, as well examples of traditional Chinese brush painting. We discussed what defines a “Landscape,” and how nature is a common theme in many types of art, particularly in Asian sumi-e paintings. Students practiced with sumi ink first to create at least three distinct values. They then used their discoveries of value and line, along with the techniques of “wet-on-wet” and salt texture, to create their own landscape images in a panoramic format.

    Class time is so busy at the elementary level, that I often don’t feel like I really get a good look at what students are creating until I unload the drying rack the next morning. Taking each painting off the rack, I finally get to view and absorb what information students have latched on to- I can see the actual learning in their work, and I’m amazed that we did that together. This time is so precious to me, because I also get to assess myself and see all of my own successes and failures reflected back at me in their work…What did I inadvertently rush or leave out? What do I need to emphasize more? What in my lesson did they really connect with?

  2. Sometimes it really strikes me, how absurd it is that humanity has created such a gap between life and nature. For early humans life was inseparable from nature. In today’s world we avoid it, criticize it and destroy it. It amazes me how many people drive with the windows up on a gorgeous day. It amazes me that humans intentionally avoid “getting dirty” (Even I am guilty). It amazes me that people are aware of the harm mankind has done to our planet and amazes me even more when people say they don’t care because “they will be gone long before earth.” And even if the world never ends, what kind of earth will exist if we continue to fight and destroy it?

    I think I am especially aware of these absurdities because of the role nature has played in my life. It has essentially saved my life and my mind in times of hardship and stress. Nature provides everything humans could ever ask for or need- medically, mentally, physically, spiritually. It is tragically underestimated how powerful a moment spent in nature can impact our lives and our awareness of the world.

    As an Art Educator I am constantly preaching about how the arts are significantly discredited and underfunded, but another issue that tends to be avoided is the environment and the impact humans have on nature, but there is hope with the green movement growing. Who ever thought the environment could be a topic of political debate? But as Art Educators, we are able to integrate environmental awareness seamlessly into the art curriculum. I felt inspired after reading many haiku poems about nature and attempted one of my own:

    its sweet–as I lay
    under the naked oak tree
    nothing is broken

    I also wanted to include another haiku that I was inspired by:

    Lightning flash—
    what I thought were faces
    are plumes of pampas grass. -Basho Matsuo

  3. After researching more about environmental art, I have come to the conclusion that art is a bridge for the science to reach its message of advocacy to a more wider audience. I think people are a little wary of science and environmental advocates because they assume they are intense tree huggers. Art can help visualize the numbers and facts that are within their data, that most people do not read, to something more relatable and secular.
    Taking time to really just sit and breathe, taking in the day is hard when we are all so busy. I think being in nature can give us more perspective, plus time to slow down. It is crucial for children to experience nature, especially if they grew up in an urban place. They may have been to a park, but that is not the same thing as the woods in the mountains. Gauging what students know and have experienced with nature is needed when you are doing a unit/lesson on the environment. Some might not know anything about recycling or global warming.

    I have walked around numerous times just in my back yard and took pictures of things that stood out to me. I love to see things in bloom so spring is beautiful to me besides the pollen. I took this picture of a flower blooming in my yard. I love flowers. I also love the transformation that nature goes through- the constant changing and adapting.

  4. Growing up I watched my mother work part-time for Keep Kingsport Beautiful and volunteering for Northeast Tennessee Resource Conservation and Development Council. Both these organizations have ties to nature, conservation and beautification. I was able to be involved with some of the outdoor events and projects. I already had a love for the outdoors from an early age, because my grandmother was always growing flowers and gardening. She grew some of the loveliest flowers in the neighborhood. Since I helped my grandmother with her garden and planting, I have an appreciation for the outdoors and loved my time spent with my grandmother. I enjoyed learning about the different flowers, how to make them grow, and their names. I got an education about nature from my grandmother without even knowing it, till later in life. I have used flowers in my drawings and even in my quilting, because of my appreciation for them.
    In my classroom I want my students to have a real understanding for conservation and beautification. I want to be able to get them outdoors to study, learn about nature and then be able to draw or paint what they are seeing. This outdoor classroom time will give the students an opportunity to appreciate nature and the beauty around them.
    The picture below is a woodblock print. It is two images combined into one. The top is of fall leaves lying on the ground and the bottom is of winter tree branches with no leaves. It is carved from a block of wood then printed on paper.

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