Saint Andrew's Orthodox Church School

Environmental Education

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?

In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind.

– Job 12:7-10 -

At Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Church School we take environmental education very seriously. We consider it to be an essential part of a proper Christian education.

Learning about the created world is a practical way of learning about the love of God. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’ (Psalm 18). In wisdom He has made them all (Psalm 103:24). Nature is one incredible ecosystem of magnificent structures, full of beauty, incredible complexity that presents itself humbly as simplicity, grandeur, and infinite wisdom.

All of this works together to provide a habitable home for humans and other creatures. Nature provides us with everything that we need. It even cleans up after us. Looking closely at how nature works children can get a feeling for God’s great generosity and genius. Looking at the beauty of God’s creation is a form of practical theology.

In addition, bringing nature into schools is essential because regular contact with the natural environment plays an important role in the healthy physical, emotional and mental development of children. Growing evidence has shown that nature exposure benefits cognitive function – all the processes involved in gaining knowledge and understanding, including perception, memory, reasoning, judgment, imagination and problem-solving. Research has shown similar results as regards to emotional wellbeing – where exposure to nature increases calmness, happiness and creativity1.

We benefit from the natural world in every way. We also have a responsibility to care for creation. ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it’ (Genesis 2:15). A proper Christian upbringing includes learning how-to (and becoming motivated to) care for the world around us.

Our unique approach to environmental education

Although we share our dedication to environmental education with all other Scottish schools, we have developed a different approach to teaching it. We call this the positive approach. Most courses of learning about the environment are alarmist and focus on our strained relationship to the natural world. Too much emphasis is given to earning about pollution, endangered species, unsustainable use of energy and resources and environmental destruction. This leaves children feeling anxious and burdened with issues that in fact they have little power to do anything about. We believe that this sort of learning is inappropriate for primary school children.

The way to make a ‘real environmentalist’ (some one who will love and care for the environment throughout their life) is to give a child the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate how wonderful nature is. By playing with nature and seeing its beauty children come to see its value. We consider this to be the appropriate aim of environmental education in the primary years. These same children will then have the foundation they need for engaging with the complexities of the relationship between human societies and the natural world as they grow to become more critical and able to affect their communities.

We use the positive approach to show children the value of nature – what there is to preserve and why. We do not burden them with stress about problems that they are not capable of solving. Preserving the environment is studied, but always with an emphasis on loving the environment, having positive experiences of nature and seeing its beauty and its processes.

Environmental education is spread out and embedded into (almost) the entire curriculum. It is covered in (and supports the learning of) Foundations in Science, Nature Studies, Art, Geography, Project Work, English (literature), Practical Problem Solving, and Physical Education.

Children also go on regular fieldtrips to local natural environments. On these trips they have the opportunity to observe nature ‘happening’. The classes go on bimonthly outings to observe how habitats and animal behaviour change with the seasons. We use Forest School methodologies to make these nature walks fun. They are an opportunity for children to run and play outdoors in beautiful surroundings, gather materials for their art classes and project work, and to make natural crafts.

Alongside the fun creative aspects we also use a range of Charlotte Mason style ‘observation games’ to make children more attentive to detail. These are simple games such as: seeing how many species of plants and flowers the children can spot, how many different bird songs they can hear, how many colours of flowers each team can find, finding insects, I Spy (nature) with my Little Eye, and more. Such games teach children to pay close attention and ensure that they ‘see more’ of the incredible world around them. The observations made by the children are then drawn in to support their learning throughout the curriculum.

God made the world and saw that it is good (Genesis 1:31). We also look to see that the world is good. Ultimately our purpose is to turn towards the Creator of such a creation with the awe and thankfulness that is fitting.

  1. For those who want to know more a good introductory article is the ‘The nature cure: how time outdoors transforms our memory, imagination and logic’ by Sam Pyrah, publish in the Guardian on 27th November 2023.↩︎