Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817. Today we celebrate his 200th birthday! Walden Pond, the inspiration for one of his greatest works, will hold celebrations all week. You can find our more out the bicentennial celebrations here. However, celebrating Thoreau shouldn’t be limited to one location or one day in 2017. We can celebrate Thoreau in English class all year and follow in his footsteps by bringing our students outside.
In “Walking“, published in The Atlantic in May 1862, Thoreau established the importance of spending time outside. He reminded readers that, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” That wildness can be found anywhere that we find nature. Wildness might be the soccer field next to the school or it could be the forest. Regardless of how large the area is, it can be wild for your students!
Many American literature classes include Walden as part of the curriculum. Personally, though, I think that Thoreau is more relatable when students read his essays. “Walking” is accessible to most students and can be studied in a few class periods. Why not read Thoreau’s essays, including “Walking“, outside with students this year? There are many ways to approach this essay. I designed a lesson for the NYTimes Learning Network for the essay; it can be found here.
Bill Schecter, a teacher who created an elective called “Meet Mr. Thoreau”, reminds us that the leaves, trees, sky, rain, and dirt that Thoreau surrounded himself with at Walden can also be found in our school yards (2009). Thoreau said, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: What would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” What happens to our students when we keep them inside all day? Instead of tying students to desks, why not bring them outside and challenge them to write about the grass? The clouds? The birds?
If you want to let your students have their own Walden Pond experience- take them outside. Let them see, feel, hear, and taste nature! In the meantime, peruse Thoreau’s writings and pull out essays or excerpts that fit in your curriculum. Celebrate Thoreau to the fullest!
Schecter, B. (2009). On Teaching Thoreau. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (265), 1.
Moellering, K. (2013). Metaphysical Dirt: Teaching Thoreau Outside. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (282), 5.
Bill, S. (2009). On Teaching Thoreau. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (265), 1.