Project SERVE: Bean Soup Moment
I can remember the exact moment I fell in love with Biology.
I was making a 4-H project for baby sensory development by putting beans in socks and sewing them shut. I had some extra beans left, so I did what every imaginative kid would do - I made “bean soup” out of muddy water, beans, and grass blades. You can imagine what happened when I left that wildly inedible “bean soup” on my window for a few days…. bean sprouts!! My elementary mind was amazed and I like to call it my “Bean Soup Moment”. I spent days wandering around in the yard looking for sprouting plants.
Thus, a nature lover was born. I’d say a majority of my childhood revolved around flowers, mud, and trees…. and food, but that’s beside the point.
Nature planted seeds of passion (pun intended) that would eventually grow into my bachelor’s degree: Biology - Natural Resources. When I was struggling in math and not finishing my boring (but important!) history assignments, my science grades excelled - grade school through college. Everything was exciting and I saw connections every day to the little natural mysteries I noticed running around in the woods as a child. Now I spend my free time telling my friends and family about all the cool natural phenomena around me. My wonder with the world, and inability to stay quiet about it, has led me to the education career I am currently pursuing.
Luck was on my side though; my K-12 school was bordered by cornfields and massive expanse of prairie. Fortunately, it was also a school with the funding to provide lab equipment, a chemical closet, and frogs to dissect. Spending time outside observing, catching bugs, and walking through the greenhouse provided hands-on experiences. Pair that with quality learning materials - not to mention my incredible science teachers and college professors - and I was bound to flourish.
As we move into more and more technology usage in the classrooms and throughout life, it is hard to visualize our students doing anything more than staring at their screens. But many of us do not want our children and students to spend their childhood typing away for school. It is no secret that outdoor play and education has a positive impact on children and adults alike. The Centers for Disease Control list multiple physical benefits of outdoor activity, stating that communities and schools must incorporate nurturing natural environments for children (1) and organizations like The Children and Nature Network state their mission is to help students be better connected to nature in their everyday lives to promote lifelong natural learners (2).
Incorporating nature into classrooms can create a feeling of connectedness to others and help students feel as though they are mentally able to “take a breath of fresh air”. Our brains are able to reduce our stress levels and calm our minds (3). In the science classroom, you can just imagine the sort of benefits that nature can give our students, not only in their studies of natural phenomenon but also their overall physical and mental wellbeing. We will see more active students with budding curiosity and an actual desire to learn the science behind what they are observing.
I had the opportunity to be a camp counselor at Pioneers Park Wilderness Nature Camp (4) for a summer, and I cannot tell you the number of times the campers and junior counselors (aged 6-17) connected nature and science. It is an educational camp, and every day I would see the little activities I want added into my future classroom curriculum: learning about natural water tables, plant pressing, how to properly hold a snake, and how important it is to save the less than 1% of original prairie left in the Great Plains. I want to see this sort of education in our public school classrooms.
If you are a parent of a school-age child in the middle of a city, you may be thinking “Well Ally, dear, incorporating nature into classrooms sounds wonderful…. but all I see outside my window is expanses of pavement and developments encroaching on open land. How are my child’s teachers and I supposed to provide natural education?”
Well, that’s a good question. How do we provide education involving nature to all students? Field trips are enriching, but often expensive. Greenhouses and gardens get students involved, but often take up space and require additional resources. Our teachers are already stretched thin. It is going to take determination and effort from teachers and parents alike.
Summer camps? Additional educational programs? Partner organizations? Fundraising? There are no clear paths to take on this matter, especially when other educational issues are at the forefront of our mind.
But I believe it is imperative that we incorporate nature in our classrooms. Benefits include breaking away from screens, physical activity, giving minds a break, and fostering a curiosity for science. Whether our schools are in the middle of cities or in the middle of nowhere, our curriculums will flourish if we can bring a little of the outdoors inside.
Who knows, maybe we can help students find their own “Bean Soup Moment”.
Allysa Catt ('21) is a Noyce scholar in the Doane University Fast Track Teacher Preparation program. Upon completing her teacher certification, she plans to teach science in a high-need secondary school. She also hopes to teach in Korea in the near future.