Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nature: A Great Teacher

A while back, when I first realized that Earth Week was going to take place without the participation (on campus) of our Middle School - who will be getting muddy, wet and tired in the jungles and beaches of Malaysia - I was momentarily disappointed. They would be missing the assembly, the activities, the initiatives  to help them understand  the Earth and nature and all they have to offer.  My next response, as you might be thinking, was almost immediate... don't be silly!  Malaysia Week during Earth Week?!  How cool is that?!

Research has shown that the single most powerful determinant of adults caring for nature is recurring experiences in nature as a young child, ideally with family. Kenny Peavy, who worked at ISKL until last year, in his book (co-authored with Thom Henley) As if the Earth Matters, mentions that it is imporant to feel a sense of belonging in nature before we can become advocates of it and stewards for it. I could not agree with them more. For ISKL Malaysia Week represents a foray into a world of natural wonder. It's the chance for our Middle Schoolers - so filled with enthusiasm (and sometimes concern) - to engage with nature so closely that they learn to do such things as swim in the vicinity of sharks, sleep in the jungle, non-chalantly pull leeches off their legs. What begins with a bunch of somewhat rowdy, and definitely adrenaline-filled, 12-14 year olds, who are sometimes embarking on their fist stint in a natural environment, ends with what seems like seasoned veterans returning from months in the bush. Scrapes, bruises, tan lines and leech bites later, they emerge from their respective buses with a week's worth of natural experience that cannot possibly be emulated in any classroom, nor in the hallways during Earth Week activities on campus.

Minimizing what Richard Louv refers to as "Nature Deficit Disorder" (if you have the inkling, take the time to read the book Last Child in the Woods) has profound experiential influence on our students. In being "out there" they are able to learn about the world, about themselves, about the power of being face-to-face with non-electronic world. They grow to appreciate, to interact, to pay attention to things that previously were overrun by iPad culture. In doing so they also learn to cooperate, to communicate, to collaborate, to lead and to overcome adversity and to celebrate. These are educational outcomes that are perfectly suited for natural settings and yet form the core of what we want to teach at ISKL: The School-wide Learning Results (SLRs). 

So next time I see that Malaysia Week is taking place during Earth Week, my first thought wil be of just how perfect a fit that is. What can possibly be better than taking the time, especially during Earth Week, to be uncomfortable a little, to overcome, to unite with others, to appreciate, to experience, to grow, to develop, to recognize that nature can be as wonderful as we let it. From sunsets to jungle treks, from survivor beach lodging to Ulu Perak rafting, experiencing nature is a living classroom where one is educated in all the senses. 

Malaysia Week during Earth Week!? How awesome is that?!  

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