Nature is the original and the best classroom: Learning in Nature about Nature for more engaged children
Director of Life Rocks
When one looks at the dirt beneath our feet, it seems a most mysterious process to imagine that this apparently mundane “dirty” substance can become the beautiful plants, and dynamic animals and humans that walk the Earth. It does not have to be so mysterious, because truly, there are fundamental processes that govern this sequence from dirt into plants. Culturally, for whatever reasons, we have not made it a priority to know this process deeply or at all. In the sciences, all throughout school, soil processes are little mentioned. Schools teach biology, chemistry, physics, geology and agriculture as separate subjects, yet in reality, they are all intrinsically connected. The disconnected subjects of science taught in the mainstream do little to inspire any practically applied knowledge in the learner. Yet, in the seemingly simple act of growing a plant in soil, the principles and realities of chemistry, biology, physics and more come together to create life as we know it. How can we work with Nature to learn more deeply? Teaching foundational aspects of science through pragmatic measures, like growing food, is a great idea. Yet the mainstream education system seems to have divided all the aspects of the whole and wants us to learn about the sterile, separate bits in books or on web pages. As we now have the opportunity to homeschool our children, or to send them to more practical types of schooling like nature schools, Steiner schools, or Montessori we can actually facilitate this more natural and pragmatic style of learning in Nature. Children and humans need to feel connected to the web of Nature and observe its unfolding through time and season.
Scientific frozen snapshots of data do not connect us to wholes; they get us thinking in parts. When the natural linking between the elements is removed, like in mainstream education, along with it goes the interconnected story of Nature. Observing a plant on a page, separated from the soil, the microorganisms, the fungi and the network that sustains it – does not make sense to our ancient brain. Observing patterns, is deeply connected to our sense of survival and fulfillment. Without seeing the flow of the seasons, or at which points in the year a plant fruits, or what signs may indicate a water source in an environment or any other number of natural patterns – we may perish. This is why human beings love to learn and are naturally elevated from the learning process – it is the sense that we are seeing patterns, which means becoming smarter, which means us and our loved ones surviving and thriving for longer. This is why Nature is not only our favourite home throughout history, but our favourite laboratory, and classroom. The richness of context and interpenetrating elements tell a story that is endless and complex. Stories and context create meaning, and meaning is what helps us to grow and continue to thrive. For these same reasons, when we take aspects of science, and we disconnect them from other aspects of Nature, we lose so much context, and, therefore, so much meaning. This is a large part of why so much of our education system fails to engage students in deep and lifelong learning of the natural sciences, and of Nature. Our culture, our children, and ourselves all grasp for meaning in our lives. With meaning comes satisfaction, happiness, and awe. All of those things are important in the mental health and physical well-being of any human. We can begin to bring meaning back into our lives, simply by immersing ourselves in the natural world.
Now more than ever, returning to natures vast, and complex landscapes to learn, play and grow – can be exactly what we and our children need to become passionate about life, and live a life full of meaning and connectedness to the Earth and each other. So, you have to teach the kids maths, language, science, drama, chemistry or any other subject that is required for school? Use Nature! All of the subjects exist in Nature, and they exist simultaneously. For engineering and trigonometry – haul a rock out of a creek bed building pulleys. For math, study sacred geometry and crystal geometry. For drama, play with animal mimicry and bird language. For art, try some nature mandalas with the children. Nature was the original classroom, so let’s make it popular again to use the natural world as our playground and classroom.
Asher Cloran - Connecting Children to Nature