While we appreciate as educators the benefits that outdoor education has for the mental development and skills development of our students, there is another benefit that is even more essential to the mission of Adventist education: outdoor education helps promote the spiritual development of our students.
We feel a connection to God in the natural world. As Sleeth points out, our faith may grow as we discover the significant role that nature plays in scripture and our spirituality. When we spend time in nature, we get to know God, ourselves, and the world we live in. It has been said that nature is God’s second book. In nature, we experience lessons connected to the Bible that help us grow and strengthen our faith.
For example, spending time in nature reminds us to embrace the stewardship role that God has bestowed upon us as a moral responsibility at Creation. We may take this role more seriously when we spend time learning in the natural world. Nazir and Pedretti note that we embrace civic attitudes and behaviors when we are more invested in caring for the natural spaces we spend time in. When learning about nature, such as native plants or animals, we develop a sense of ownership. We care more about the different parts of our world when we learn about them.
Outdoor prayer walks and prayer spaces on outdoor school grounds may promote spiritual development although they have not yet been researched. A study on indoor prayer space activities for students showed that they contributed to the participant’s spiritual development. By looking at Jesus’s life, we can see that the results may be even greater outdoors. Jesus often spoke to the Father in the wilderness and on the mountain tops. He prayed for hours before His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane, seeking the Father for support as He prepared for the time to come. Taking students on nature walks and prayer walks that lead to peaceful spaces may renew their spirits and help them experience the joy and wonder of all of God’s creation.
Instructional practices—whether structured or unstructured—should be a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces where nature experiences are brought inside the classroom or the class is taken outside into nature. Adapting lessons that have already been developed to include more outdoor learning experiences can create a quick start to this change. Integrating the outdoors into education creates lasting and meaningful learning for our students. The mind-body-nature connection is cultivated and transformed in outdoor learning, leading to substantial benefits for students, such as enhancement of intelligence, academic performance, psychological health, social relationships, and spirituality. Learning opportunities for outdoor education should be prioritized in education as it enriches the whole child.