We are coming to see that we inhabit a densely connected, intricate universe of patterns. Learning to see ourselves in a web of relationships, one that sustains our confidences and our abilities to risk, goes to the heart of an ecological education.
Teachers and students at Sky Islands become field scientists of sorts—environmental detectives, integrating specific knowledge and perspectives into our social and intellectual lives.
Children possess a very sensuous relation to their worlds—they reach out to pet passing dogs; bugs attract their curious attentions; trees spark their imaginations; colors and textures catch their eye. Teachers must also become more imaginatively responsive and spirited in the presence of young people to provide better models of inquiry and thought.
Learning to think ecologically—to see patterns and design in the world—can restore in children the notion that the environments they inhabit are places of inspiration and purpose. Similarly, environmental field work can reconfirm a sense of community and belonging, a tolerance for diversity, and renewed personal dignity.
In practice, this requires experiencing the world cognitively as well as sensually and kinesthetically. These ecological sensibilities are developed at Sky Islands through an integrated studies plan with specific attention to visual decoding.
Classroom work opens onto the school gardens and orchards, the koi pond and the neighborhood watershed. We practice an active pedagogy of place that reconnects young people with what’s around them, the people and places in their lives.
Deliberately slowing down what happens at Sky Islands allows us to reclaim the important truth that authentic education is a slower process. Moving more slowly is not necessarily a sign of inactivity or indifference. Rather, slowing down allows us to listen and watch more mindfully, to practice and follow through more thoroughly, and to nourish our imaginations and our senses with greater care.
It is essential to design speed bumps into daily rhythms by deliberately planning times and spaces for storytelling, walking and gardening, conversation and shared problem-solving, enjoying music, meals and moments of quiet privacy. We recognize the importance of fast technologies and occasional needs for fast knowledge, but also approach acceleration as a question of appropriate scale and purpose.
At Sky Islands we:
- Arrange the built environment and the surrounding landscape to maximize opportunities for building relationships, exploration, artful creativity, and thoughtful reflection;
- Provide opportunities for hands-on activities, such as planting organic gardens and orchards, building the koi pond and aquaponics system, restoring fragile surface ecosystems and watersheds, taking part in alternative building—straw bale, rammed earth;
- Integrate mapping and computer-assisted programs with local narratives, histories, and archeological activities;
- Support practices of visual decoding through studies in drawing and design, photography, and architecture.