By: Kate Thompson, Second Grade Teacher
Having the opportunity to teach Religion is one of my favorite parts about being an educator in a Catholic school. The discussions that ensue during our Religion classes truly give me a strong insight to the girls’ personalities as a whole. While discussing the Resurrection of Jesus and explaining how Easter is a symbol of new life, the class began discussing the season of spring. We discussed what happens to God’s world outside when spring arrives: flowers bloom, leaves bud on trees, lambs, bunnies, and chicks are born. From there, we discussed the beauty of the world around us and the various ways that we can appreciate God’s creation as well as the gifts and talents He has bestowed upon us.
In my life, I have had the great fortune of being provided with sixteen plus years of Catholic Education, which has greatly impacted my decision to teach in a Catholic school. Through my collegiate experiences at Xavier University, I was given the opportunity to take several classes in outdoor learning through my degree track. My participation in the Methods of Early Childhood Learning seminar truly opened my eyes to the benefits of outdoor learning. This idea has been around forever; however, in our technology driven society, many people have seemed to have forgotten about the importance of being outside. Personally, I am in love with all things outdoors. When I am not in school teaching my wonderful second graders, it is pretty much a guarantee that you will find me outside. While Xavier confirmed my love of the outdoors, the heart of my love of nature I owe entirely to my parents.
My mom is a firm believer in capturing a child’s creativity. One of my favorite activities growing up was during the summer months, she would stick my sisters and I outside with a bucket of water and a paint brush. No prompting, no encouragement, just handed us the buckets of water and paint brushes and off we went. My dad was just as encouraging when it came to the outdoors and wanted us to make the most of the gifts that God has given us. He used to have us study outside. On nights before tests, he would take us outside one on one and quiz us while completing an activity. We would review for science tests by digging in the ground and math was reviewed by applying the concept to a game of driveway basketball. Taking our love of God and appreciation of nature a step further, my parents held us to a household weekend routine. Our Saturday’s were spent outside reflecting on God’s wonder before we would all gather as a family at five o’clock Mass.
As soon as I was old enough, I wanted to share my love of God’s creation with others. In searching for a career path, I started my professional journey as a camp counselor in high school and college. One of my favorite activities was having my group of campers lay down on the ground and watch the clouds. We would make stories from the clouds, talk about the types of clouds, and let our imaginations take us on an adventure. It was then I really started to explore the world of education and its connection to the outdoors. While I loved the camp counselor role, I felt that I could take the job a step further. Through a lot of prayer and self-reflection, I landed in the teaching world.
Based on my experiences, I can safely say that I have seen nothing but tremendous success from fostering an appreciation of God’s creation in children. It is extremely beneficial to allow children the time and freedom to be outside. Try on your own spending at least five mindful minutes outside and see where your brain takes you. Now, try spending five minutes outside with a child and see where they take you. From something as simple as giving your child a bucket of water and a paintbrush, to spending time outside in prayer with your loved ones, or having them lay down in the grass or on a towel and watch clouds, the outdoors is truly an eye-opening essential to learning and faith formation.