It was only a half day gig, but I was covering French. I know maybe five words of French so there would be no winging it if we ran out of things to do, which we did. The teacher left very limited assignments, which were accomplished in the first third of the class time, and it was a lovely day for December. Blue skies, a light wind, temps hovering around 50 degrees fahrenheit….
So we went outside, naturally. Apparently the French class never goes outside, but yesterday we did. I have learned that playgrounds are not limited by age, only the imagination. Who doesn’t like the weighty drop of a swing after the soar? Well they don’t have swings on the middle school playground in my town, but they do have a things to play on that integrated into the natural environment. There are wooden beams to balance on and hang from, ropes to navigate, and plenty of fields surrounded by trees that beg to be run through and explored. There are few things better than watching a middle schooler give away all cares and run with abandon outside. And, our work was done for the day. We had no excuses.
Nature is transformative. Before we went outside, clusters of middle schoolers were beginning to form to talk not about French, but each other. They were supposed to be practicing their vocabulary words in small groups, but the inevitable “Who do you like?” game quickly formed between two of the clusters. I observed for a while as I pretended to read.
“Okay, let’s go outside!”
The transformation was instant. Everything else forgotten, except who was going to get the football from the gym. If truth be told, I’d spend the whole day subbing outside. Weather permitting. Nothing beats Nature’s Classroom. The benefits are pretty much endless.
I often tell my yoga classes to “get outside” to ground their bare feet through Earth, which has a magnetic polarity just like our bodies do. We need that connection to feel balanced and well. Even if we have to wear shoes. We need the feel of the elements. The wind moving into our lungs, the sun activating joy and that essential nutrient called vitamin D…
I spent the first have of this past Saturday in a suicide prevention workshop and one of the issues we discussed was the high rate of suicides here in the Northeast where are winters are long and sunlight is limited. When we don’t get outside and receive that essential connection to Earth and the elements on a regular (daily) basis, we fall more easily into depression. As a substitute teacher of the middle grades, I care more about the wellbeing of my charges than I do their grades. I believe that’s my job. I can’t possibly know the ins-and-outs of each subject in each grade that I cover, nor can I know the performance record or learning habits of each student, but I can pay attention to their wellbeing.
With the exception of the underdressed (there are always a few who refuse to gather jackets), there is always reluctance to head back indoors after the allotted time outside is finished. That, to me, is a sign of time well spent. Before we went inside yesterday, I noticed that even the underdressed child with her arms tucked into her shirt had been singing for the entire ten minutes. There is nothing better.