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Czechs, the Great Outdoors, and Experiential Education

May 15, 2012

One of things Matt and I love about living here is the absolute commitment Czechs have to enjoying “the nature.”  Without a doubt, on any day that is at least moderately nice, in any season,  Czechs of ALL ages will be out and about in Prague’s many parks, or will take a bus to one of the hiking regions outside the city.  Plaid hiking pants and walking poles are very common, used by young and old alike.  Indeed, Czech deciduous and coniferous forests are gorgeous. (that rhymes!) The mysterious (to me) lack of underbrush creates a fairy-tale-like green and brown canvas on which shafts of sunlight brilliantly shine.

Cesky Raj

This is a photo from Česky Raj, a beautiful region of limestone pillars, old castles, and gorgeous forests.

Why do Czechs (and Europeans in general) fearlessly spend so much time in nature?  One important factor is that it is part of their educational system.  Quite common are “School in Nature” experiences, where kids spend a week of school in nature.  Here in CZ it’s called Škola v Přírodě (Shkolah vuh Pgrri-row-dee-ay).  This spring, for the first time, our international school took the middle school on a ŠvP trip.  The kids were educated in a much different manner than usual–using maps to figure out a hiking route (little or no help from chaperones!), learning how to work with a team and value team members, experiencing nature (instead of just seeing it in pictures or from a distance), and learning how to endure and persevere through a 40 km bike ride.

For said 40 km bike ride, I wasn’t well enough to make the journey, and one student didn’t have the skills or confidence to ride up and down a hill, much less through woods and fields.  So, we stayed behind and worked on her basic bike skills and took a shorter ride through the woods once she gained confidence on pavement.  We were able to have good conversations about fear of injury and fear of doing things in front of people, and how to overcome those fears. To my satisfaction, it was a wonderfully successful experience for her, and by the time we were done she said couldn’t wait to ride her bike at home again! (It had been 3 years since the last time.) She also said later that it was her favorite day that week.

The last morning of our trip, Matt led a devotional in which students took 20 minutes to silently reflect, pray, and meditate on Scripture while observing the sights, sounds, and smells of God’s creation around them.  Students were prompted to think about what they had learned during the week.  In this, they were encouraged to practice one of the most important disciplines of Christian faith: being still with God.

The trip confirmed to me that experiential education is really a great thing: giving kids meaningful experiences in physical challenges, nature, and working with each other.  I hope US schools can realize the value of experiential education as much as Europeans do.  Kids can learn ABOUT the world and life sitting with a book or computer, but what if they KNEW these things personally because they have experienced them?

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