As the founder of Natural Connections Academy, Inc. I am truly excited (and somewhat nervous) about the prospect of combining my two loves: education and the outdoors. This idea of educating students outside of the typical classroom is something that I have dabbled with throughout my teaching career. When I was teaching fourth grade, I got my students outside, even if it meant just laying on the front lawn of the school reading their social studies books. This is something that many teachers do, I know, but it was an attempt to continue to use mainstream curriculum AND get them outside! To expand their engagement with nature, I would take my students to a park near by with observation journals to document what they saw in nature. Many times, we would gather or count items outside that were related to our classroom topics.
My eagerness to get them out of the classroom also had me venturing with my students across the state of Montana to visit the education center of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. This was really the beginning of my resolve to enable students to learn and love nature. I had applied and received a grant to travel from the eastern side of Montana (nearly to the border with North Dakota) over 420 miles to the capital of Helena. Boy was that a trip! Imagine… two mini vans, three adults, 8 students, and three days of traveling and learning! Each stop that we made had a purpose. For example, stopping for lunch, we went to the top of the rim around Billings Montana and talked about the lake that once was there. We stopped at a rest area and learned about the dinosaurs that were previously in the area. On our way to Helena, we visited the Prairie Dog Town, a Mining Museum (where we were able to go in a mine), beetle infected trees, Audubon Conservation Center, and several others. I was able to take two different classes on that trip and I feel that I can confidently say that those students learned a lot about Montana and themselves during those excursions.
It was the students' excitement and pure interest as they watched birds of prey, used binoculars to find and identify migrating birds at the Spring Meadow Lake State Park, walked around looking for animal tracks at the Audubon Conservation Center, and the cold, darkness they experienced at the Butte Mine Museum, that helped me shape my goal -- to replicate that whenever I had the opportunity!
That’s our goal at the Natural Connections Academy! We want to be outside, looking at birds, flowers, trees, lakes, and all that Idaho has to offer. We want to make learning about the life cycle of plants real to them as they plant seeds and harvest the bounty. We want to get their hands wet and their eyes excited when heading to Heyburn State Park to monitor the water quality. We want to widen their view of what the environment does for them and the world.
I think that putting children’s experiences at the forefront of their learning will make the topics come alive and energize students toward a lifelong love of learning! That is what we want to do at Natural Connections Academy.