Teaching and Learning in Nearby Nature

Learning in Nearby Nature - Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, Kent, WA

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, Kent, WA

I invite you to read an article entitled Teaching and Learning in Nearby Nature about my Learning in Nearby Nature course.


How can we engage the tension that environmental degradation and meaningful remediation efforts co-exist in the same space? In this documentary account, I describe a weekend mini-course I developed and taught to support undergraduate students in exploring former industrial sites that have been redesigned as earthworks, parks, or public walkways. I share conceptual frameworks for learning and reflection in nearby nature and describe how I purposefully selected sites for exploration. Strategies I used to foster a culture of contemplation and reflection are documented. Finally, I consider the tensions in students’ written reflections and identify patterns in student learning. Students found new appreciation for nearby urban parks and green spaces, often re-thinking the idea that one must visit “wilderness” to experience a connection to nature. They also debated whether restoration efforts should focus on restoring sites to some ecological ideal or leave visible evidence of past environmental degradation.

Contemplative Environments

Living mindfully and developing the skill of observant quiet requires engaging in daily practices to disengage from our contemporary consumer economy and the stress of urban life. We can each make choices to intentionally develop awareness of nearby nature and to honor and appreciate the complex interconnections within ecosystems. As Lyanda Lynn Haupt observes, “Attending to the world more closely, we are inspired to act instead from a sense of love, interconnection, and a recognition of mutual strength and fragility” (p. 305) We can reorient our focus to our relationship with soil, air, water, and all living beings.


Haupt, L. L. (2013). The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild. New York: Little,

Brown and Company.

Amy E. Ryken

Amy E. Ryken

Amy E. Ryken studies partnerships that foster connections between schools and community resources, such as museums and outdoor environments. She is particularly interested in a broad definition of learning that considers how people learn, in a wide range of settings and activities, over the life span.
Amy E. Ryken

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