Catching butterflies, looking at worms under a microscope, constructing forest homes and digging in dirt happen to be part of Manassas Adventist Preparatory School’s (Va.) curriculum this school year. As part of a new pilot program, students in Kindergarten and 1st grade are taking time to explore God’s second book of nature as part of a new forestry class. Twice a week students head out into nature—rain or shine—to explore and experience God’s World.
“I believe young children need to be spending more time in nature,” said Ruth Davis, MAPS teacher and who initiated the program. “With the rise of technology, and many of my students living in the city, most don’t get a lot of time outdoors. Children learn as they play and more importantly, in play, children learn how to learn. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Play is the highest form of research.’”
Davis attended several seminars focused on forestry at a teacher convention held in the fall, inspiring her to see how she could implement the concept at her own school. Currently, the 13 students in kindergarten and first grade spend two 45-minute class periods in the forestry class. Class begins with a short lesson and review of guidelines for exploration and then students set off to observe and investigate the nature around them, armed with a wagonload of tools to help them discover, like nets, bug cups, shovels and rakes.
Davis says she notices a difference in her students when they have more outside time. “This outlet to explore creatively and use their imaginations increases their focus and attention in the classroom,” she shares. “On the days we have forestry class, my students are not as easily distracted. Kids are also getting more courageous. Those who were afraid of bugs are now expert bug catchers, kids who didn’t want to get messy now have mud on their hands and those who were cautious before are now foraging new paths in the woods.
“Ellen White says, ‘The fields and hills—nature’s audience chamber—should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbooks. The lessons thus imprinted upon their minds will not be soon forgotten’ (Child Guidance (p. 48). I wholeheartedly agree with this and am excited to see the difference it is making in our students.”
Davis and school administration are working to find grants to help fund an outdoor classroom area which will include items like a music wall, mud kitchen, stem water station, dinosaur dig sand box, gardening area and more.