Science Learned in Nature Creates Meaningful Experiences

This year each grade has two classes per week devoted to Science in Nature. During these classes, we explore the rich, natural setting of Moraine Farm to enhance and supplement the existing science curriculum. Hands-on, experiential lessons cultivate scientific observational skills as well as a connection to the earth to help students become discerning stewards of the land throughout their lives.

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Craig Holdrege, PhD—biologist, educator, and director of The Nature Institute, stated at a lecture given at Waldorf School at Moraine farm in 2015, that to become sustainable, to allow life to flourish and not merely exist, we need to be open and willing to change with new ideas. This is not necessarily about just preparing students for today’s society or maintaining the status quo; rather, our goal is to help students be part of a world in which we thrive and move forward towards sustainability. For this, we must learn to think and imagine the future with flexibility, wisdom, warmth, and deep understanding for the earth and all of its inhabitants.

How do we nurture and educate children to have the above capacities? This is one of the challenges of education today, and at Waldorf School at Moraine Farm, we aim to cultivate these capacities through all of our programs, including the Science in Nature program.

As teachers, we ask ourselves what kind of experiences are meaningful for students and how do we encourage them?

The experiences that matter are the “real” ones that have drama and a commanding presence. A commanding presence is an elusive quality, but is certainly identifiable. Many experiences in nature have that “commanding presence”. While out with the first and second grade on the shores of Lake Wenham in February, we caught a glimpse of a bald eagle. As it soared overhead, our fingers and eyes were looking upwards trying to track the eagle’s movements. Everyone stopped what they were doing and strained to look in the direction where it had disappeared towards the meadow. Then as we were all silently and hopefully waiting, it re-emerged from that same direction with tufts of dry grass and sticks tucked in its talons. It flew overhead and landed in the tall pine trees on the other side of the lake. While this was just a passing moment, it led us to more questions, such as: “What is the eagle doing?”; “Is there a nest?”; “Does it have a mate nearby?” Some of the children recalled seeing an eagle, perhaps even the same one, the year before in kindergarten. These are the types of unplanned moments that together lead towards a deeper interest, connection, and awareness of the natural world around us

Aldo Leopold said (quoted in the book Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, by Julianne Lutz Warren) “There is drama in every bush if you’re willing to see it.” He believed that weeds on a city block could share the same lessons as the redwood forest. He imagined a future where we would know the drama of nature and show no indifference to the weeds. He thought we would have no need for conservation. While he was seemingly optimistic, his words still hold true: there is a presence that can be found in nature which we can experience and which moves us toward longer-term sustainability.

We are fortunate to have our beautiful school campus and its surrounding 275 acres of Moraine Farm just outside our doors. As we concluded the maple sugaring season and moved into spring, the children helped to prepare the garden for a new season of growth. We turned over the soil, improving it, and planted new seeds. Through this practical work we continue to come to know the land better, come to envision ourselves as long-term stewards and students of the earth, and enjoy the unplanned moments that present themselves along the way.

By Coleen Ryan, Science in Nature Coordinator

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