If you want to see a group of kids run, not walk, to class, drop by Phoenix Rising on an Outdoor Education day. Facilitators Genevieve Becker and Porter Eichenlaub share an infectious passion for their subject which inspires students and enlivens learning. “You can build integrated lesson plans around a lot of different academic subjects that are really immediate and compelling for the kids,” says Porter. “The natural world can be a great vehicle for igniting passion and enthusiasm for any kind of learning.”
Multiple studies have shown that time spent outside, both structured and unstructured, provides physical, mental and emotional benefits for children and adults, including an enhanced ability to focus. However, Genevieve, a lead stewardship specialist with Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation and Porter, who also teaches at the Olympia Waldorf School, see greater potentials. “If we know about nature, if we feel connected to it, then we can care for it. This creates a long term healthy system,” says Genevieve. Porter echoes that sentiment. “One of the best ways to inspire people to really care about our environment when they’re older is to have a strong emotional connection, a sense of wonder in the natural world early on in life,” he says.
With that in mind, their goal is for students to leave Phoenix Rising after sixth grade with specific skills, knowledge and attitudes. “Strong values can be instilled,” says Porter. “I want them to develop their own land ethic based on a solid relationship to the woods here, the fields and streams and ocean. In addition, we want them to leave with some solid wilderness skills. By 6th grade kids would be able to go out on a three day backpacking trip or a two day camping trip. That’s where fire-building and safety skills come in.”
Genevieve sees additional benefits. “I want the kids to experience the sense of community in nature, the sense of self, and a level of comfort,” she says. “To be able to be out there and not only survive but be comfortable is an empowering feeling.” Perhaps most importantly, says Porter, “We want them to leave with a sense of curiosity and wonder that’s still awake about the natural world, to know more things than they did when they started here, but still be really excited and curious about all of the mysteries and the magic that’s around.”