I have been wondering lately if outdoor learning is the "next big thing" in education. By outdoor learning, I don't mean the annual field trip or taking books outside to read under a tree on a sunny day in May. I mean spending as much as possible of each school day learning in the outdoors. Many schools in our Christian Deeper Learning network do culminating or capstone projects outdoors and we have had some excellent presentations of that learning at our CDL conferences over the years. In recent years, my former school, Holland Christian Schools, has been developing an outdoor learning program in partnership with our local Outdoor Discovery Center. The program has waiting lists for grades K-4 and will be expanded to 5th grade this coming year. You can learn more about the program below:
Source: Holland Christian Forest School webpage
I believe there are very good reasons for the popularity of this approach. In our media-filled, distraction-driven, sedentary lifestyle world, being outdoors for kids is authentic, real, and filled with movement and adventure. For excellent resources and more research evidence than I can present in this brief space, I suggest you check out the great resources on the HC Forest School page. I have often reflected in my blog posts on wonder and beauty and want to share some of the connections I have found between beauty, wonder and worship via an excerpt from a 2016 post I wrote for the CACE website.
Life is meant to be a journey, and life is full of learning. We are on a journey/quest of learning and wonder – it is how we are wired as image bearers of God – we are wired for questioning and discovery. The role of science in this journey, then, is not to nail it all down but to continue to expand our wonder. Robert Sapolsky, a distinguished scientist, reflects this sentiment: “The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.” Sapolsky captures the sense of wonder and complexity in these words: “. . . an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.”
Part of the purpose of learning is to gain a greater sense of wonder. Well-known physicist/genius Richard Feynman suggests: “The purpose of knowledge is to appreciate wonders even more.” Our process of learning, then is not to produce certainty through a command of factual information, but to produce a greater appreciation of wonder, to be increasingly motivated to learn more and more, and to engage in the study of complexities yet not understood. In the learning process, the student should have questions multiplying rather than being answered – and sometimes, this might mean questioning things we thought we knew…or had an answer for.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr suggests that wondering connotes at least three things: 1) standing in disbelief, 2) standing in the question itself, and 3) standing in awe before something. He suggests it is spiritually healthy to remain open to all three things inside of you as long as you don’t let skepticism and negativity gain the upper hand. To remain in the question keeps us spiritually humble and open to what is possible.
Despite concerns about “science bleaching the world of wonder,” Phillip Ball suggests that “science today appreciates that the link between curiosity and wonder should not, and probably cannot, be severed, for true curiosity – as opposed, say, to obsessive pedantry, acquisitiveness or problem-solving – grinds to a halt when deprived of wonder’s fuel.”
I believe we simply cannot detach our emotions, our enthusiasm, our fervor, our aesthetic and moral impulses, our sense of awe and wonder – it is our innate response to worship, to bow in humility before a God whose “glory is beyond the heavens, whose ways are past finding out.”