Outdoor education is near and dear to my heart.
Along with the mental and physical benefits, getting kids outside in a school-based environment encourages them to become passionate about the places that they will one day seek to protect. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv talks about the inevitable joy for natural spaces that is founded upon both experiential and academic knowledge.
Yes, outdoor ed has recently become a field that I have both researched and championed in hopes of inspiring the next generation to get out-of-doors and connect with nature. It’s my soapbox, so to speak, that just so happened to unknowingly be toted along with me to Mozambique.
You can imagine my delight when I was given the impromptu opportunity to lead a group of high school English students in a learning engagement. Yes, I was tired – it had been a long week of humidity, manual labor, and an emotional outpouring. But here I was, on my last day in the country, making the most of a chance to collaboratively participate within a unique educational setting. I found myself in a room without air conditioning, the windows open to catch the hint of a cross breeze. The students fanned themselves listlessly while maintaining polite eye contact during my brief introduction.
I eagerly introduced myself, mentioning how delighted I was to have spent a week in their country, immersed in all of the beautiful, natural surroundings. The students seemed intrigued when I described my job as a teacher in the United States and leader of Muddy Monday escapades on a regular basis.
And then I posed this question: What is your favorite part of the outdoors in this area?
I could see the high school class pondering the question as they mentally translated it into their native language, brows furrowed in concentration. Their faces were pensive as they sifted through years of experience in an outdoor environment that, at times, had been very unkind to them.
In a country where poverty and hunger are rampant, most individuals focus primarily on daily survival. I could tell that this consideration was a new one, so I prompted them to discuss within their seat groups. I walked around the room, and, in halting English, I could hear some of their endearing responses.
“I like the elephant. I saw one with my father when I was young.”
“My favorite is the baobab tree. It is large and strong.”
“I enjoy the sea. I hope to sail on it one day.”
I joined in on some of their conversations, drawing out smiles when I recollected my recent encounter with moringa, a green super-food that tasted like bland, gritty spinach. (This nutrient-packed plant is an local phenomena that was enthusiastically served to me over a bed of rice at recent meal.) I received murmurs of agreement when I talked about the gorgeous African skies that seem to change shades and forms at a moment’s notice.
It was delightful to see these young people engage wholeheartedly with a question that was so far removed from what they might normally regard. They seemed to appreciate the focal point that was placed on accessing multi-sensory outdoor experiences, as their thoughtful answers indicated.
After a sweet time of sharing responses collectively, I left the class with this exhortation: “When you’re outside, stop and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of your land. Look for the wonder in the glorious things that surround you on a daily basis.”
The students waved goodbye and assured me that they would.