“Learning through listening may last five minutes. Learning through watching might last a day. Learning through experiencing will last a lifetime.”
One of the most breathtaking and life-changing experiences of my life to date, and one which I will remember for the rest of my life, was volunteering on a conservation programme in the Amazon Rainforest back in 2008. I left my soul in the Amazon Sky, and one day I must return to collect it…
I picked up a leaflet about volunteer conservation work in the Amazon Rainforest and embarked onto the mission with great anticipation. I had read about the Amazon Rainforest in text books in school and I had looked in awe and wonder at the variety of weird and wonderful creatures and plants. Such a magical place, yet so far away and so divergent, as if on another planet. I had read, like so many others, of the equivalent number of football pitches of forest being destroyed on a daily basis, and tried to picture the size confusingly in my head. I knew it wasn’t good, but what could I do about it? How was our population, here in the UK, being affected by it? It would still be here for our lifetime at least, and most westerners have everything they could ever need for, so why should they care?
Nothing can prepare you for the sheer intensity of the Amazon Rainforest. The atmosphere is so dense you feel like you can lick the condensation from the air. The unrelenting jungle chorus of shrills, hisses, buzzes and tweets is sometimes deafening, especially at night, and is a constant reminder of the vast array of wildlife looking at you, wondering who it is that is trespassing in their home. Butterflies look exactly like leaves; red spotty fogs are perfectly camouflaged against matching red spotty leaves. The fight for survival and patterns of evolution jump right out at you… if you dare to look.
Night time was particularly memorable. The stars are so staggeringly pure, millions of polished diamonds floating in a deathly black sea above. Every so often I’d see a shooting star; a mini rocket of fire dancing between the diamonds before it burnt out into dust. Even though I was surrounded by a dense jungle shrill, I felt so peaceful and alone. So insignificant. The scene at night is etched into my mind with a clarity which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It was a moment so difficult to put into words, but if perfect had a definition then surely that would be it.
Each wonderful and unique plant and insect was fighting its own battle for survival against each other and against man. Tiny shoots pushing through the soil, looking so fragile and insignificant, yet at the forefront of cancer research and treatment. So fragile yet so important. Utilised in order to save lives and create new opportunities around the globe. It became very frustrating to see the extent of deforestation and lack of education on the importance of the environment. Much of the damage done by capitalist countries far away from where I was standing.
Whilst in the Amazon I helped to build an organic garden for the indigenous community so they could grow and sell produce for a profit rather than follow the trend into logging. The manual work I endured was back-breaking, and any shower I had was limited to utilising the downpour of golf-ball sized raindrops that fell each afternoon. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Some of the communities I came into contact with had nothing apart from the clothes that they stood in, and yet they were the happiest people alive. After all, when you think about it, they had all they ever need: their family’s love whilst being surrounded by all the resources that make the life-force of the world. What is important in life soon becomes clear.
I could tell you many stories about my time in the Amazon Rainforest. I could search for the right words and phrases to try to get you to understand. But nothing I say could describe the memories and the experiences I had, which will be engraved into my head for the rest of my life.
And that is exactly how children remember and learn too. I am not saying every child needs to visit the Amazon Rainforest. You can tell them a fact; you can show them a picture; but until they try things out themselves practically and it is related to a significant part of their life or environment, they will not fully understand a concept and it will not be remembered for long. From my vast experiences in a range of concepts from nursery-based; primary school-based; overseas expeditions for secondary pupils; teachers who accompany me; and also my own family members during the weekends; the motivation, learning, and retention from practical outdoor learning, far exceeds any picture book or conversation about these same issues. Give children an experience-based learning; enable them to learn through trial and error; facilitate testing of their own ideas and allow time for improvement in their techniques. This experiential-based learning opens doors to higher order thinking skills and will help to grow a more mindful future generation.
So what about the 50 football pitches of Amazon Rainforest that have been destroyed every minute since 2000? I may not be able to make a direct difference on my own, but if I could motivate just one child to see the importance of the outdoors and protecting the environment, then maybe they would encourage someone else, and this passion and education could be passed along. Maybe that someone else will grow up to own a company who decided to source eco-friendly resources. Maybe their friend would invent a new environmentally friendly product or write an article like this one which is read by someone else. Maybe, little by little, I will be able to make a difference. Maybe, in years to come, that moment between me and that little shooting star up high above the Amazon sky, wouldn’t be so insignificant after all.
Outdoor Learning Made Easy Ltd