Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nature Sense

Think about chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven.  What immediately filled your senses when you read the previous statement?  I thought of warm cookies full of delicious gooey chocolate chips flavoring the house with the scent of sweet brown sugar.  Now, imagine you’re at a crowded party with dozens of people talking around you.  The noise is loud enough to require a raised voice when speaking to the person next to you.  Would you be able to hear the voice of a close relative or spouse from across the room?  Our senses are powerful tools used daily as we journey through life.

We experience the world through our senses, and we find meaning through the connection between the environment and our senses.  This is why Islandwood is such a powerful educational program for young students.  We go beyond the Googled images of flora and fauna they see on PowerPoints in desk lined classrooms.  We adventure through surroundings full of rich sensory moments.

During the blindfolded portion of the night hike through the forest, students enter a realm of complete darkness without the security of a flashlight.  Students feel the trail with their feet, listen to the sounds of nocturnal creatures, hold the shoulders of the person in front of them, and navigate an unfamiliar world by truly experiencing it in a way that a video game, movie, or song can’t provide.  This challenge forces students to face difficult emotions around fear, trust, curiosity, and accomplishment, but it would not be effective without the full immersion through the senses. 

While the night hike is a strong favorite for a lot of students, it isn't the only means by which we connect the student to the outdoors through senses.  While walking on the many trails of Islandwood there is a variety of edible plants available to entice the students’ palates.  Excitement is evident as students anxiously taste stinging nettle, pickle weed, licorice fern, huckleberry, and blackberry.

Solo walks through the woods often result in students touching the surprisingly warm soil, hugging a sturdy tree, feeling the carpet-like moss, listening to a pileated woodpecker drumming, smelling the pungent Stinky Bob, sound mapping the chatty song birds, and admiring the many shades of green that really do exist in nature. 

Would you rather learn about the environment by adventuring through the forest with all your senses alerted to the potentially changing world around you, or would you rather do a Google search for beautifully crafted yet forgettable images that have no significant meaning?  We begin our life exploring the world almost exclusively through sensory motor skills, and during that time, we learn a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge.  Embrace the world through your eyes, but don’t forget to stimulate your ears, tongue, skin, and nose because it is only when you fully immerse yourself that you make meaningful connections.


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