NBL had a difficult time getting started. The problem was to define succinctly “nature.” If we were going to be successful, then developing a clear and comprehensive definition of the word was paramount. everyone claimed they understood the word, but when pressed, various definitions emerged. Going to a dictionary, surprisingly, wasn’t very helpful:
There was a lead here, if you look at Number 3. In this we got the idea to look at the elements. Were the elements limited, specific and defined. Turns out, the Greeks listed 4 main elements: air, water, earth and fire. Chinese, Buddhists and Taoist considered Metal and Wood as additional elements. NBL focuses on 5 elements: air, water, plants, soil (Earth) and animals. We eliminated Metal and Fire for two reasons. 1. To study metal we would have classes indoors and we want to be outside. 2. We didn’t want to add the danger of fire to our outside nature study. While we are comfortable with our current 5 element focus, we may expand these later.
We have added “animals” to our elements of nature list for the simple reason that the degradation of our environment of our natural surroundings include the destruction of our natural environment and our animals. So many animals are now extinct or threatened with extinction because of man’s activity, greed and aggression. We had to include animals into the mix.
Soil (Earth) was an ancient element and should be a key NBL study element. Without soil and the decomposition of rock, we would have no food, no fruit, not trees and no life. Soil and our Earth is a fascinating topic and NBL participants learn the connection of this element to all other elements. We could not study plants or know how to take care of plants without the study of soil. Our soil is quickly becoming degraded and NBL participants will become soil detectives and doctors as they learn not just the importance of soil, but what we can do to keep our carbon in the ground.
The Ancient Greeks and Chinese called this element Wood. NBL has changed it to plants as this word more clearly represents the element we will study. We will, of course, study trees, but also flowers, grains, fruit, grass and other growing plants. The study and the challenges presented in the NBL program will help participants really understand the live cycle, growth and development of plants. The phases plants undertake is so critical for an in depth understanding of nature. Participants have so many exciting challenges in this element.
The study of air is essential to understanding nature and all its moving parts. Air is a fascinating subject and so many great challenges. As man become more urban and less rural, we pretend we have conquer nature and especially weather. Now that Global Warming is such a reality to all of us on this planet, the study and appreciation of air becomes paramount. Why air moves, what is the jet stream, how do planes fly into typhoons? become serious and interesting questions and puzzles. Participants learn to look at clouds, analyze the air and build their own barometer so awareness becomes a skill just like we had long ago.
Life without water would be impossible. We are more than 70% water and our brains are even more! To know nature and understand the moving elements, water becomes essential. Health of animals, plants, soil and air all require water. NBL water element has real depth as the brain challenges water presents are so numerous. This topic brings nature study to a new level, as the water to be studied will be right in front of them, and the questions/problems presented will be thrilling.