“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
Our class began the year with a desire to immerse ourselves in nature. We spent a lot of time outdoors exploring the sounds of the birds, the feel of the reeds we could wander through and the rush of the wind as we ran down the hills. On rainy days we played in the rain; splashing in puddles, catching the rain in buckets and digging in the mud. Our hoods were off, our bodies were wet, and we were truly immersed in the experience. We looked for and found God in the natural world and realized he was always present in our lives.
Throughout all these explorations we as teachers noticed how the children traveled together. As they wound themselves around and around, in and out of the reeds, they did so as a group. The children ran down the hills as a group, they ran up as a group – waiting until everyone was together – only to roll back down… as a group. As they splashed and played in the puddles, they stomped and jumped and laughed, as a group.
The children cared about each other and began to form bonds of friendship, relationships and caring for each other. Caring for each other and the guinea pigs in our classroom seemed like a logical place to further our relationship with nature.
Empathy is not only an essential social skill, but an academic one; research shows that successful learnings are not only knowledgeable, but also empathetic. The ability to be empathetic is found naturally in all of us, but requires nurturing to be properly developed. One way to teach these skills is through engagement with nature.
As the children arrive, they wait for each other by the door, eagerly greeting each friend. When they enter the classroom, their attention first turns to Chocolate and Peppermint, the guinea pigs. Chocolate and Peppermint start each morning free in the classroom. The children feed them, show them affection and differentiate each individual guinea pig’s personality. In caring for each other we have created a democratic society in our classroom.