To the child, as to the artist, everything is relevant, little is unseen. (Horowitz, 2013, p. 76)
I think schoolyards and the immediate area surrounding school grounds tend to be underused resources for ecological learning.
Perhaps you and your students have not been afforded the time or resources to familiarize and come to a deeper understanding of the place that is your schoolyard/school ground. Many teachers have not been given the opportunity to consider how place can contribute to their teaching. Others assume that learning/teaching outside is suitable solely for “natural” topics—e.g. topics in Science or Social Studies. Fewer still, perhaps, have ever considered how place is—or can be— a co-teacher. So my intentions for this resource are broader than providing teachers with things to do. In the long run I hope to encourage teachers to re-imagine what place can contribute to their teaching.
My hope is that images and knowledge of the local natural world will become etched in students’ minds—they will come to know each place in great(er) detail and will thus develop emotional connection and a sense of ethical responsibility. Each walk can provide deeper understanding, clarity, richness, and detail to an understanding of place. Like a holographic image, each walk can bring some aspect of the natural world and related curricular knowledge into focus. With increasing clarity they can also begin to see the wonder in the “ordinary” world around them.
Stolnik (2000) claims that a rich sense of place can only be gained and developed via walking. On foot, over time, we can hope to regain some of what we lose as language-using beings. Horowitz (2013) discusses how language rapidly impacts our sense-making and has a profound impact on our understanding/engagement with the world around us. She describes how in the first five years of life it is believed that every two hours children learn a new word. This is remarkable to say the least; but for Horowitz this is also “terrifying”. It is “terrifying that every [few] hours a child loses more and more the ability to think without language” … It means that “every hour children are less able to not notice words” (my emphasis, p. 59). I appreciate Horowitz’s stance that the lack of language is enviable; while language has given human beings unspeakable (!) richness and possibility, it has come at a cost. I hope that we can re-engage our bodies with the particularities of the world and, in this way, regain some of the richness we tend to lose.
When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities.
(Horowitz, 2013, p. 13)
Acknowledgements & Sources of Inspiration
I want to acknowledge the different teachers who have inspired this work. First I appreciate what I have learned and continue to learn from simply expanding my awareness to include the natural world around me. I continually strive to practice a more embodied and active receptiveness to the natural world around me when I think about teaching. My ability to re-imagine my place in the world has also been inspired by some of my recent readings. Some are new to me, and others are old favourites:
Beames, S., Higgins, P., & Nicol, R. (2012). Learning outside the classroom: Theory and guidelines for practice. New York: Routledge.
Horowitz, A. (2013). On looking: Eleven walks with expert eyes. New York: Scribner.
Hotton, V. (2015). Walking practices in higher education: An inquiry into the teaching, writing, and walking practices of five contemporary academics. Unpublished dissertation. Simon Fraser University.
Rothschild, C. (2004). Walking into wonder. Green Teacher, 74 (Fall 2004): 24-26.
Rubinstein, D. (2015). Born to walk: The transformative power of a pedestrian act. Toronto: ECW Press.
Snyder, G. (1990). The practice of the wild. San Francisco: North Point Press.
Solnit, R. (2000). Wanderlust: a history of walking. New York: Penguin Books. (This text contains an actual path! Walking-related quotes run the length of the text at the bottom of each page. Genius.)
Thoreau, D. (1994). Walking. San Francisco: Harper.
Young, J., Haas, E., McGown, E. (2010). Coyote’s guide to connecting with nature (2nd Ed.) Shelton WA: Owlink Media.