Ideas for exploring students’ passion for nature
By Marianne Green
Can we go outside for class today? This familiar student request still brings a smile. Being a teacher in an urban Catholic school, my students and I were fortunate to have access to the parish garden throughout the school day. Surrounded by flowers, small trees, and other plantings, we would discuss books, write response journals, and meditate using Lectio Divina while enjoying our time in a small bit of God’s creation.
I have read plenty of educational research on the “nature deficit in children” from organizations such as the World Commission on Protected Areas, Children and Nature Network, and the Natural Start Alliance to know that there continues to be a healthy concern about today’s students spending less time outdoors than their predecessors. However, I also know that myself and fellow Catholic teachers are helping students embrace their role as stewards of creation through a variety of disciplines.
Here are just a few examples of exploring students’ passion for Mother Nature in a classroom:
The Power of the Flower
Begin with the beautiful words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux:
Every flower created by Him is beautiful…the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. If all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enameled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls. Our Lord’s living garden.
Discuss the variety of flowers within gardens. If you are teaching older students, then explore St. Thérèse’s flower metaphor for souls and connect to St. Paul’s teaching on “Unity and Variety” (1 Corinthians 12).
Consider collaborating with a gardening community to enrich students’ understanding of landscape designs. This enrichment activity may also involve mathematics and science teachers. Discussing symmetry, measurements, and the like helps students integrate disciplines with real world applications (Garden Design). The United States Botanic Garden’s Landscape for Life teaching resource site is an excellent starting point.
Need another? Involve the Social Studies teachers with a state flower activity and use a cool tech tools such as Google Maps to design an interactive lesson on state symbols (State Symbols USA).
Fun with Food
Team up with mathematics teachers to show how fractions and measurements are important in the creation of favorite recipes. Try out Teacher Vision’s “Food Resources for Teachers” for free printable lessons.
Use Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s teaching resource on “Food Preservation Methods” or the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum’s digital lesson “Pacific Northwest History and Cultures: Why Do the Foods We Eat Matter?” to link to Science and Social Studies.
Here’s one more idea for food fun. If you teach Shakespeare, then consider exploring the Folger Shakespeare Library’s resource on “The Food of Shakespeare’s World.”
Air, Earth, Fire, Water
Read St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun. Have students’ compose their own, original canticle (song) or poem about the elements. If students need more models of songs, explore Psalm 8, Psalm 19, Psalm 33, or Psalm 95.
Involve Art and Technology teachers. Have the students design colorful paper slides of their original canticles and compose a class video of student work for the greater school community to enjoy! Here’s a link to an example of a Paper Slides Religion class project.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes, “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole” (no. 48, Caritas in Veritate).
So, can we go outside for class? Yes, yes, we can!
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Marianne T. Green, M.A., a Golden Apple recipient and independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center, is an adjunct faculty member of St. Joseph’s College. Her recent collaboration with Diocese of Reykjavik is featured on Instagram @Virtual_Disciple.
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