On Eclipse Day: 5 Ways Natural Wonders Make Us More Creative

In a few hours, we will begin observing the eclipse. No handouts. No close reading exercises. Just a bunch of families in the neighborhood gathering together to break bread, eat bacon, and then see the shadows change and the stars appear and the temperature drop. Nocturnal creatures will appear at ten in the morning. We will don our special glasses and wait for that magical moment of totality.

I am not entirely sure what my kids will learn tomorrow. But I know that they will be consumed with awe and wonder — a certain kind that can only occur when we are truly able to observe the beauty of our universe.

On Friday evening, I had dinner with Michael and Leslie Doyle. I’ve known Michael for over a decade; but always through the filter of blogging and social media. But on this particular evening, we shared stories, talked about ideas, and ate scallops. On Friday morning, we went to the beach, where he showed me how to find a crab. He warned me that all the textbooks will tell you this particular species only comes out at night and he asked me to pay close attention. A half hour later, I saw one scurrying around the sand. He pointed out birds of prey and told stories and it was a reminder of something that I don’t think I’ve ever told him: Michael Doyle is why I fell in love with science.

Michael Doyle is why I fell in love with science.

I had always seen science as cold and mechanical, but he describes it in a way that is poetic and dynamic.

Yesterday, he posted something that bears repeating:

The eclipse is a wonderful event, but just as spectacular is the bay tide–it’s rising over 6 feet in 6 hours, twice a day.

Just saw a hummingbird display its ridiculous aerial abilities. Watched a praying mantis on a bean plant this morning. Dug a few clams out of the flats a couple hours ago. Eating grace from the garden every day for the last two months.

The commonness of the day to day miracles shouldn’t lessen our awe, and won’t if you’re paying attention.

Get outside and pay attention, and be the mammal you are.

I love his use of the words “grace” and “miracle.” We are surrounded by wonder if we’re willing to slow down, pay attention, and observe.

Why Natural Wonders Make Us More Creative

Wonder is powerful in itself. We shouldn’t need to ask, “how is this useful?” when taking the time to go for a walk or observe a sunset. But there is a transformative element to nature that makes us more creative. If you ask some of the most innovative artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, you might be surprised by how often they go hiking or take long walks. There’s something powerful about slowing down and taking in the beauty of our universe.

So, it has me thinking about the classroom. Want kids to be more creative? Maybe create more opportunities for them to explore the natural world.

  1. Nature creates positive disruptions. Going out into nature will pull us from rhythm of industrial life and from the narrow algorithm-based worldview of our echo chambers. Today as we went hiking, I was suddenly whisked away from the cacophony of current events and latest education fads. This period of simply enjoying the natural beauty of the Oregon forest had a re-centering affect that actually allowed me to think more creatively when I arrived home.
  2. Nature encourages problem-solving. Ever noticed that some of your best ideas happen while you are taking a shower, sitting in the car, or going for a walk? There’s a reason for this. In RestAlex Soojung-Kim Pang explores how some of the greatest thinkers use long walks as ways to think deeply about seemingly unrelated ideas. For example, Charles Darwin used to go on long walks in the country and play around with the ideas of his evolutionary theory. While we often think of this time as a luxury, this was more like a daily discipline that allowed his mind to process information by connecting seemingly disconnected ideas.
  3. Nature helps us embrace deep work. There’s an interesting research study cited in Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Students in Ann Arbor, Michigan, were asked to take a long walk before engaging in a concentration activity. The first group went out into a wooded area while the second group walked through the bustling city center. The first group not only scored better in a deep work activity but their results continued a full week later. The bottom line? When we go into nature, we are able to do focused work afterward. And that, right there, is vital for creative work.
  4. Nature humbles us while also expanding our worldview. When I was a kid, we sang a song about a God who “has the whole world in his hands.” Now, I have an iPhone and I can connect to the world instantaneously. But go explore the natural world and you see that the world cannot be compressed, shrink-wrapped, and shipped. Yes, our devices are connected, but we still need to break bread and eat bacon and laugh and tell stories and wander around the forest. This has a humbling effect while also expanding our worldview. And when this happens, our creative work is able to expand.
  5. Nature can spark innovation. When you think about the future of space travel, you don’t usually think of geckos. And yet, NASA is studying these lizards to try and understand how to create better adhesives. The natural world is often the inspiration for innovation. I noticed a similar phenomenon when my son played with snow and then created an experiment which ultimately led him to create his own de-icer.

If we want our students to grow into creative thinkers, we need to move beyond the makerspace (and please note that I’m a huge fan of makerspaces) and out into the natural world. That 3D printer is awesome but picking the first strawberries from a garden can feel magical. With a Macbook, you’ll feel like you can do just about anything but a forest can remind us just how much we can’t do.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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  1. […] blog post by John Spencer about the ways that nature helps us to be more creative (check it out here).  Personally I love to be out in nature, so the post really caught my attention.  The gist of […]

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