In this article, I am not going to cite the latest research. I am not going to analyze how all of what I am espousing will fit into the target goals or the state standards. I will not spend time justifying the value of intimately experiencing creation to an educational system that sometimes seems to believe that inside is where all the education happens.
But also I am not going to stop going outside with my students.
I am a sixth grade teacher at Rockford Christian School in Rockford, Michigan. In tandem with my fifth-grade teaching partner, Julie Barrett, we have been allowed to call ourselves the RCS Environmental Program. We host and lead three different overnight experiences with our students—one per season during the school year. We have two class periods each week that allow us to be outdoors, and we use these opportunities to study various issues in creation. We visit parks and have discussions with caretakers. We learn about threats like pollution and garbage by visiting the local waste-to-energy facility, the recycling center, and the wastewater treatment plant. We have an ongoing relationship with a Christian camp, Camp Roger, just three miles down the road, and their staff allow us to visit frequently. We have had an Adopt-a-Highway sign in front of school, and therefore we are responsible for picking up trash along these two miles of highway twice each year. My students spend a lot of time outdoors. I recognize immediately that I am blessed to be able to educate using these opportunities. As a Christian educator, I cannot imagine teaching without them.
As stewards of creation, we have a biblical mandate to take care of the world that God has created. Picking up trash can be seen as merely a task, but we know it to be an opportunity to live out this responsibility. It can be argued that this alone makes us environmentalists and not necessarily faith-based people. So if this is indeed a reflection of living out our faith, how do we keep God in the center of what we do?
In our program we never refer to the outdoors as “nature.” It is always spoken of as “creation.” A simple semantic ploy, perhaps, but one that inherently reflects the existence of a Creator. He is the author of all beauty. We can marvel at a beautiful piece of art, but we don’t worship the art. We are instead amazed at the skill of the artist. By getting outside often, we can point to the majesty of the God we serve.
While it should seem obvious, I also believe we are living in an age when safety and comfort and videos and technology rule the lives of our children. These things insulate today’s children from the adventures of playing outside after school. Without becoming the critical old uncle in the corner at family reunions who wishes to tell everyone about what is wrong with kids these days, I do want to point out that our children do not have the opportunities to run outside, get muddy, build forts, and learn to appreciate the outdoors that I had when I was younger. By not having these experiences as children, I fear ignorance and apathy toward the created world will be evident in these same people as adults.
But there is another component to all of this inaction. If we hope to train up our children to appreciate the importance of the created world and to wonder at its intricacies, how can that be done without immersing them in that world?
Phil Warners has followed a strange career path. He was a classroom teacher for seventeen years, took sixteen years off to work at a Christian camp, and returned to the classroom four years ago. Currently Phil teaches sixth graders at Rockford Christian School (Rockford, MI) while the sixth graders in his class continue to also teach him. He enjoys long-distance backpacking trips and resurgent health following a scary cancer experience. Phil has one wife, six children, two sons-in-law, five grandchildren, and a really cool pick-up truck.