Powerful Connections Through Nature
Outdoor learning is an integral part of Waldorf education, beginning in early childhood with daily outdoor play—in all weather conditions! In grade school, students hike, garden, and camp, ranging farther from campus as they grow in age and experience. By the time they reach high school, students can look forward to one week-long experiential education and service trip, and one wilderness trip each year. These trips give students the opportunity to challenge themselves, learn about the world around them, give back to their communities, and grow together as a class.
The tenth grade trip is a great example of experiential education, in giving students an opportunity to observe and practice what they study in the Hydrology block. Students travel to the Washington State Olympic Peninsula, where they explore watersheds and global weather patterns, and get an intimate look at how waterways connect people locally and across our planet. The fall 2018 tenth grade trip started with an exploration of the upper Dungeness watershed, looking for macroinvertebrates in the frigid streambed and sketching the riparian zone where the forest meets the water. We could see up the valley to where the snow was accumulating in the peaks, generating the feet-numbing waters where we cast our nets. It was the perfect place to bring a lesson on the water cycle to life!
Our journey took us to the Dungeness Spit, where sediments carried by mountain streams are deposited in one long, narrow beach. Our goal was to walk the five and a half miles out to the lighthouse at the end of the spit and back. Mr. Busse gathered the students at the shore to discuss the ocean currents that help to drive global weather, and explained how the mountains where we had been the day before created the “rain shadow” effect that make this section of coastline so much drier than the temperate rainforest to the south.
The students then set out on the sandy, sloped beach—a challenge to traverse—but they were in high spirits and kept up a good pace. Soon they began to notice all the trash and plastic that had washed up along the shore. Dungeness Spit is a National Wildlife Refuge and a federally protected area, but that doesn’t stop trash from around the world washing up on its shores. Students immediately began collecting the trash, marveling at the quantity. They collected so much that they had to stash piles to pick up on the return hike, which they marked with creative sculptures. On the way back, one student picked up a discarded full-size air mattress, which was encrusted in sand and extremely heavy. Cheered on by his classmates, he dragged the mattress three miles back to the trailhead. Inspired, other students increased their efforts. By the time we reached the trailhead, they had formed a trash parade and they were beaming with accomplishment.
Conversation around the campfire that evening was serious as students expressed their hopes and fears for the future and the state of our planet. Students were clearly grappling with these complex, heavy topics, and I was impressed by their insights. As we closed our circle, I thanked them for their earnestness and reminded them that no matter what they might face going forward in high school and beyond, they are lucky to have each other. It is this power of connection—to one another and to the environment in which we live—that will enable us to recognize that by working together, we have what we need to creatively solve problems that may appear daunting—and to effect significant positive change.
–Emily Busse, Outdoor and Experiential Education Program Coordinator