Nature-Based Education in the Era of Climate Change

Posted March 16, 2017

By Sarah Kern

This February was 10.3 degrees warmer than normal in the Twin Cities, making it the 7th warmest February ever recorded in Minnesota. Our snowfall total squeaked in at .3 inches, tying the 1894 record for the lowest February snowfall. Winter in Minnesota is truly not what it used to be, and it has affected the implementation of our curriculum.
This winter, we dealt with crippling ice and sloshy mud, sweaty gloved hands and soaked clothes; we wondered how to dress the children and ourselves amidst melting piles of snow and 60 degree temperatures. But above all, we wondered about our environment, and the place of our curriculum in a climate that is changing.
Winter has always been a favorite – if not the favorite – season at All Seasons. While other schools tuck their students away as temperatures drop, we rush out, joyful and eager in the winter wonderland. Students and teachers alike look forward to sledding on the golf course, a weekly occurrence most years. We made it twice this year. Building a quinzhee, a snow shelter originally made by Athapaskan Indians, outside the Autumn Room door then constructing an ice slide through the middle made for hours of delight. This year, our meager pile lasted just a few days. It was rare to identify and follow animal tracks, and animal burrows in the snow were non-existent. Favorite winter books, such as The Snowy Day and Over and Under The Snow, didn’t carry the same weight without the connection of firsthand experience in snow. Even simple pleasures, like shoveling snow and leaving water out to freeze, were not possible.
A few of the second or third year students remembered the things that we missed this winter, asking when we could visit the golf course or work on our quinzhee. Even our youngest students often asked, “Can we build a snowman?” at the sight of a snowflake. It was with disappointment that the teachers answered, “No, we can’t.” It was a difficult place to be, the funny place between seasons, too early for much of our spring curriculum but impossible to embrace our winter curriculum.
One aspect of our spring curriculum, tree tapping, found its place in early February. Children helped drill into trees and marveled as sap began to flow. We had several days that met the criteria for good sap collection – above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. Then the temperature pendulum swung in extremes, with some days being too cold for the sap to flow and some nights being too warm. Thankfully, we were eventually able to collect a bounty, and we will continue to collect sap until buds form on the trees.
One of our core tenets is to help children develop meaningful, respectful, and lasting relationships with the natural world. We teach our students to become stewards of the environment and marvel as they pick up trash they find outside and go out of their way not to step on an insect in their path.
We want them to wonder, just as we wonder, why there isn’t snow, what season it really is, and what our place in it all is.
As the wind whips outside and our days get longer, we wonder, too, what spring will bring. There is one thing we know for sure: We’ll be there, observing, experiencing, and surely filthy in the great outdoors.
Source: Trenda, Ron. “Cooler Thursday; February Extended Our Record Warm Streak.” Updraft. NPR, 01 Mar. 2017.