Transformative Educational Leadership Program | ISSUE: Fall 2019
The simple act of taking a walk—a walk with a curricular focus or purpose—can have multiple positive consequences—many of which are much more profound than we ever imagine. This article takes you inside the #imagined hashtag and explores the transformative pedagogy underpinning the #walkingcurriculum challenge.
By Gillian Judson
We learn a place and how to visualize spatial relationships, as children, on foot and with imagination. Place and the scale of place must be measured against our bodies and their capabilities. (Snyder, 1990, pp. 98-99)
#getoutside—it’s a hashtag that captures a central message of the Walking Curriculum (Judson, 2019/18). The simple act of taking a walk—a walk with a curricular focus or purpose—can have multiple positive consequences—many of which are much more profound than we ever imagine.
For example, walking can support students’ health and wellbeing by getting them moving. It can also emotionally and imaginatively engage learners by changing the “context” of learning (“context” meaning both location and the form of attention and involvement required of students). On a deeper level walking-based practice connects curriculum topics with/in the real world. A new level of curriculum relevance can emerge for students as a result. Going even deeper, walking-based practice can support students in developing a sense of Place. Sense of Place, here, refers to an emotional connection to some aspect of the wildness in the world that surrounds them. Sense of Place involves a sense of community. Sense of Place is what can change how our students understand the world of which they are part—it can help them re-imagine their relationship with the natural and cultural communities they live in (Judson, 2010, 2015).
Another hashtag: #placematters. The educators who use the Walking Curriculum do so for different reasons. Some love taking their students outside and want more ideas about how to do so. Some don’t teach outside but are being mandated to do so and want support. Some have deep concerns about the natural world and love being outdoors themselves, but never imagined how they could get involved in outdoor learning. They all share one thing, however: they can all recall an emotional connection to a natural place.
I fear that our students have fewer opportunities to connect with the nature—with the wildness—around them. Schoolyards are under-used resources for learning the curriculum and for developing students’ connections with nature and community. The message within the Walking Curriculum is simple: All educators (not just those who identify as “outdoor educators”) can help students re-imagine their relationship with the natural world. All educators (preK through post-secondary) can take their learning outdoors.
I want to reach the “everyday” educator who is passionate about supporting student learning and dedicated to growing in his/her practice, but who may not consider moving outside classroom walls. All educators can afford their students the opportunity to connect with nature—whether urban, suburban, or rural settings, it doesn’t matter—the Walking Curriculum indicates how to form emotional connections with the outdoors. The Walking Curriculum is a transformative practice for educators, in which Place may come to be understood as co-teacher and educators may learn to look to Place for what it affords students for learning. In the process, teachers can re-connect themselves. Learning in all subjects and grade levels can be enriched by connecting students’ imaginations with the Places they go to school.
And a third hashtag: #imaginED…imagine education that inspires. Engaging with nature ignites the imagination and fuels human curiosity. Through its emphasis on inquiry and imagination, the Walking Curriculum is one way in which K-12 education can grow all learners’ curiosity. There is an openness and a complexity in nature that engages our sense of wonder. There is a sensuousness that engages the somatic imagination—the body’s main senses, yes, but also our sense of the musical, our awareness of incongruity, our identification of patterns, rhythms. I believe outdoor, imagination-focused learning is one way to ensure that our students leave “school” more curious than when they arrived. This will reverse a troubling trend of disengagement and boredom for many students as they proceed through school.
Add the revolutionary act of walking to the mix, and one fuels the imagination further, opening up possibilities for wider implications for learning and being. Dan Rubinstein, author of Born To Walk: The Transformative Power Of A Pedestrian Act, describes walking as “a tonic for body, mind, and soul” (p. 251). Walking, he says, not only benefits our bodies but also our communities:
[Walking] can restore health and inspire hope in places where there is not much of either. Because it can help re-plant the seeds of independence and interdependence, two things we cannot bloom without. Michael Pollan distilled his recipe for a healthy diet into seven simple words. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. My manifesto fits into three. Walk more. Anywhere. (p. 251)
Indeed, walking has been called the “magic pill” for wellness as it can positively impact so many aspects of our physical and mental health. Walking out in nature—engaging in nature more routinely is, I believe, also required to save the planet. The idea within this seemingly naive claim is simple: we need to have opportunities to connect and to form relationships with the natural world if we are going to fight to save it. Research shows that undergoing meaningful experiences in nature as children can impact the development of a conservation ethic (deBrito et al., 2017; Fisher-Maltese, 2016; McClain & Vandermaas-Peeler, 2016; Selby, 2017; Wells & Lekies, 2006).
Unfortunately, not all outdoor learning experiences are created equal. Practices that neglect emotional and imaginative engagement in the learning process do little to cultivate the heart of a conservation ethic (Judson, 2010, 2015). With the aim of developing students’ ecological understanding—an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things and a sense of care/concern for the natural world —we can teach in ways that afford our students emotional connections with their local natural and cultural contexts. We can also support our students in developing a certain depth of knowledge about it. My work on Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE) has been based on this premise: we need to provide emotionally and imaginatively engaging learning opportunities if we are to support ecological understanding, that sense of connection and embeddedness to a living world and a desire to live differently.
A Walking Curriculum: Supporting Imagination, Wellness & Sustainability
to make (basketwork or a wreath) by interlacing rods or flowers;
to make (a complex story or pattern) from a number of interconnected elements;
(weave something into) to include an element in (such as a story or pattern): interpretative comments are woven into the narrative
Imaginative ecological educators are weavers. They weave relationships that connect knowledge, the body, and natural and cultural contexts. They also weave wonder into the everyday experience of students in schools. Thinking about teaching as weaving can contribute to understanding what is distinctive about Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE) as a pedagogical approach. Imaginative and ecological teaching requires mindfulness in interconnecting students with knowledge and place. Weaving also requires artistry; each cloth is a work of art that reflects the diversity of the context in which it was created. There is a degree of artistry in good teaching that we tend to forget amidst ongoing drives to standardize curricula and universalize the educational experience of students. Weaving, as a metaphor, reminds us of some of the often forgotten dimensions of teaching.
IEE is a cross-curricular approach to teaching that combines three elements in learning: Feeling(engagement of emotion and imagination), Activeness (involvement of the body), and Place (a focus on the natural, local world). Like all ecological educators, IEE educators strive to develop students’ sense of participation in human and natural communities and to encourage their students to be thoughtful about their impact on the planet. But in IEE, much more pedagogical attention is focused on cultivating students’ emotional and imaginative relationships with knowledge and with Place. (For more information on IEE visit imaginED www.educationthatinspires.ca or the IEE website).
The Walking Curriculum (Judson, 2018) is an example of imagination- and inquiry-focused pedagogy based on the IEE approach. The resource is designed for educators K-12 who want to take student learning outside school walls. Walking Curriculum activities can be used in any context to develop students’ sense of Place and to enrich their understanding of curricular topics. The 60 easy-to-use walking-focused activities in this resource are designed to engage students’ emotions and imaginations with their local natural and cultural communities, to broaden their awareness of the particularities of Place, and to evoke their sense of wonder in learning.
The premise: Through walking, educators can enrich their students’ sense-making abilities, they can enhance their very being and, as they go, they can seed with meaning the contexts in which they spend so many hours learning. The walks described in the Walking Curriculum resource are designed to: engage the body, emotions, and imagination in ways that can increase students’ familiarity with the local natural context in which they go to school; increase students’ attention to detail and their attunement with Place; connect Place-based learning activities with cross-curricular goals; and serve as examples for your own, Place-inspired teaching ideas.
The Walking Curriculum Challenge: Spring 2019
In April 2019, hundreds of students engaged in a 30-day Walking Curriculum challenge as their teachers committed to 30-days of imagination-focused outdoor learning (if you are on Twitter check out the #walkingcurriculum thread). Another 30-day challenge began September 16, 2019. (Details are on this webpage.) Will you join the next Walking Curriculum challenge?
Educators using the Walking Curriculum tell me they appreciate how the approach creates a new “space” for their teaching—they are experimenting, collaborating and discussing these ideas in ways that can support their professional growth. Educators find the Walking Curriculum to be a powerful bridge connecting traditional, “Placeless” ways of teaching with an Aboriginal worldview that acknowledges human beings learn from the relationships they experience within their human/more-than-human communities. (Note: Starting in September 2019 and with the Network of Inquiry and Indigenous Education’s (NOIIE) Spirals of Inquiry as their guide, educators in locals schools will engage in inquiry into how walking-based practices invite and develop an Indigenous worldview for their students).
Educators are noticing the observational skills of their students improving. The walks take longer as students more deeply engage. I frequently hear about the positive impact outdoor learning is having on their students’ mental wellbeing and their ability to regulate their emotions. They note the spill-over of ideas generated through the walking-based activities to other curricular topics. Educators are telling me they are seeing the curiosity of their students increasing—more learners are asking more questions more often. Judson (in press) Cultivating Ecological Relationships Through Art and Place-Based, Imaginative, Educational Walks is an article indicating how the Walking Curriculum inspires artistry and art in their teaching.
Overwhelmingly, feedback from educators doing the Walking Curriculum reveals the pleasure students are experiencing from the opportunity to be actively and imaginatively engaged in real-world learning contexts. The “Thank You letters” I received from two classes of students are another indication of the positive impact outdoor learning can have and how it can fuel students’ need to imaginatively engage in their world. Humans are curious beings!
My hope with the Walking Curriculum is that images and knowledge of the local natural world will become etched in students’ minds—they will come to know each Place in great(er) detail and will develop emotional connections and a sense of ethical responsibility. Each walk can provide deeper understanding, clarity, richness, and detail to an understanding of Place. Like a holographic image, each walk can bring some aspect of the natural world and related curricular knowledge into focus. With increasing clarity they can also begin to see the wonder in the “ordinary” world around them. (Learn more about the Walking Curriculum and get links to sample activities here on imaginED)
I’m pleased to stand beside the NOIIE in its call to make every school a nature school. The Walking Curriculum can help us move in that direction. It is transforming how students understand “school” and how educators practice. It challenges teachers to re-imagine how they teach and it encourages teachers to personally re-connect to Place and community. The #getoutside message involves acknowledging that our communities—natural and cultural—are teachers, too. The Walking Curriculum breaks down concepts of “school” that keep students inside and inactive. In addition to providing practical strategies and examples, the Walking Curriculum encourages teachers to have a new outlook on their teaching. It empowers teachers to #getoutside (physically outside and, figuratively, “outside” by rethinking how they engage their students). It invites teachers to deepen and expand their professional learning within an online community of K-12 imaginative ecological educators.
Join us in innovating the box (the conventional vision of “school”) by taking learning into schoolyards, playgrounds and parks in ways that support inquiry and grow imagination. Join the Walking Curriculum movement!
I want to acknowledge the different teachers who have inspired this work. First, I appreciate what I have learned and continue to learn from simply expanding my awareness to include the natural world around me. I continually strive to practice a more embodied and active receptiveness to the natural world around me when I think about teaching.
de Brito Miranda, A.C., Jófili, Z., dos Anjos Carneiro-Leão, A.M., (2017). Ecological literacy - Preparing children for the twenty-first century. Early Child Development and Care, 187(2), 192-205.
Fisher-Maltese, C., (2016). "We won't hurt you butterfly!" Second-graders become environmental stewards from experiences in a school garden. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 4(1), 54-69.
Judson, G. (in press/anticipated Fall 2019). Cultivating Ecological Relationships. Through Art and Place-Based, Imaginative, Educational Walks. BC Art Teachers’ Association Journal, Special Edition: Art & Ecology, 62(1).
Judson, G. (2015) Engaging imagination in ecological education: Practical strategies for teaching. Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press.
Judson, G. (2010). A New approach to ecological education: Engaging students’ imaginations in their world. New York: Peter Lang.
Judson, G. (2018). A Walking Curriculum: Evoking wonder and developing sense of place (K-12). (KDP) *Also Available in French & Spanish
McClain, C., Vandermaas-Peeler, M., (2016). Outdoor explorations with preschoolers: An observational study of young children's developing relationship with the natural world. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 4(1).
Rubinstein, D. (2015). Born to walk: The transformative power of a pedestrian act. (Toronto: ECW Press).
Snyder, G. (1990). The practice of the wild. San Francisco: North Point Press.
Selby, D., (2017). Education for sustainable development, nature, and vernacular learning. CEPS Journal, 7(1), 9-27.
Sobel, D. (1993). Children’s special places: Exploring the role of forts, dens, and bush houses in middle childhood. Tucson, Arizona: Zephyr Press.
Wells, N. M., Lekies, K. S., (2006). Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism. Children, Youth and Environments, 16(1), 41663.