Outdoor Classrooms and Unitarian Universalist Values

89Across the country progressive school districts are sinking their money, time and resources into ‘green classrooms’. These outdoor learning spaces are living, breathing learning labs where educational standards are finding new life among butterfly, vegetable and rain gardens. Engagement and enthusiasm for learning are up, apathy and absences are down.

Yes, you say. How wonderful for school environments. What does it have to do with our churches?

Well, aside from the excellent reasons above – plenty.

Here are three more reasons why outdoor classrooms are SO UU!

1. Outdoor classrooms offer a wealth of opportunities to allow our children to problem solve the challenges of our planet on a much smaller scale. A rain barrel, a hill and two or more groups of kids with opposing goals are all that is needed to teach young children about the politics of water usage. A butterfly garden offers a tangible way to actively engage students in the global push to save our precious pollinators. The act of working across generations to create a common space that meets the needs of all members allows our youth to participate in the sometimes difficult process of democracy.

2. Outdoor classrooms are the perfect multigenerational lab for teaching environmental, congregational and community stewardship utilizing our 7 principles. How does a rain garden help our watershed? What is the most environmentally ethical way to provide food for birds? Can older youth work together with seasoned congregational members to problem solve a method for recycling your church’s gray water? Young children can brainstorm action-based statements about what the principles look like during play, and an artistic committee of members can create a series of outdoor plaques to help educate everyone who uses the space! What an amazing community education outreach opportunity! An outdoor classroom is never done. It is a long-term commitment to constantly re-evaluating a congregation’s goals and priorities utilizing the basic tenet of stewardship: to leave the world in better shape for your successor than was handed to you by your predecessor.

3. Outdoor classrooms offer sacred spaces to not only honor, but also teach, our 6 sources. As UUs we draw from a rich and varied tapestry of sources and the great outdoors is the perfect canvas to highlight the beautiful traditions each of them contribute. A contemplative labyrinth? A Native American medicine wheel? A peace pole? How about a soul garden? All of our sources can find a place of honor in the outdoor classroom – the sky is the limit. Literally.

The next time your congregation is batting around the usual frustrations about how to revitalize your RE program – think green. An outdoor classroom provides limitless potential to shape global learners who value diversity, cooperation and innovation and who are not only prepared, but fired up, to take their place as trail blazers of the next generation.