Nature the Best Teacher: Re-Connecting the World’s Children with Nature
- Kamran Mofid
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Happy children, happy youth and young adults: our future leaders, our hope for a better future, a better world. We must nurture in them the joy of life, the mystery and the wonders of life’s journey, the universe, the environment, ecology, the nature and Mother Earth. We owe it to them, to provide them with the best possible education, the wisest teachers and instil in them the best values to sustain them in their lives, making them leaders to fight for, and to take action, in the interest of the common good, building a world of peace, justice, harmony, sustainability, and prosperity for all, and not the few, as it is currently the case.
Think about it, as the legendary- “Earth scholar”- Thomas Berry had reminded us the universe is, ‘the only self-referential reality in the phenomenal world. It is the only text without context. Everything else has to be seen in the context of the universe’.
Furthermore, Berry drwas our attention to the significance of story, and in particular the universe as story. ‘The universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything."
Please see more below and if you agree with what you read, then, contact me. Share your vision, insight, and experience with me. Together, we can, and we will, co-create the beautiful world and the life we are all imagining. We must not let our children down!
‘More than parent and student communities, the teaching fraternity needs to understand that the essential purpose of education is not to enable students to earn a living, but to learn how to live life. As the primal teacher, Mother Nature teaches both the secret of life, which is to respect all life, and also how to live one’s own life in harmony and balance with all creation, exemplified by the manner in which various species of the natural world live in peaceful co-existence.’
‘Picture a school where the natural environment becomes the classroom and Nature becomes one of the teachers. Even students who don't exhibit "nature smarts" will become more attuned and connected to the world around them. And as many wise people have said, we can't save something we don't love, and we can't love something we don't know. Don't we owe it to our students to help them develop their naturalist intelligence?’
As it has been noted, ‘A child’s experience in the natural world can be as small as helping to plant a roof top garden, sitting under, in, or around the single tree in sight, or listening for the sound of a bird. Spending time in a natural environment has been documented to improve life and learning in many ways. Sadly, such a connection with nature has been slipping away from many of us – and especially so for the world’s children.’
Here, in this Blog, I am calling upon families, educators and community leaders worldwide to become as children and rediscover the benefits of paying attention to nature, and to take action to strengthen children’s connections to nature.
As adults, we should be opening the doors and providing the children and the youth opportunities that fully connect them to the natural environment so they can gain an understanding of the natural world in as many educational and recreational settings as possible. We cannot start too soon!
Today’s children and families often have limited opportunities to connect with the natural environment. Richard Louv called this phenomenon, ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in his influential book, The Last Child in the Woods, and opened our eyes to the developmental effects that nature has on our children.
Reading the book we can clearly see the staggering divide between children and the outdoors and Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, attention disorders, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and more.
Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.
In all, in the past decade, the benefits of connecting to nature have been well documented in numerous scientific research studies and publications. Collectively, this body of research shows that children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health is positively impacted when they have daily contact with nature.
Before I continue further, I very much like to share two videos with you. These videos clearly reaffirm what I have been saying above. Let us watch them. They are not that long, few minutes each, but, believe me they are very moving and telling.
Project Wild Thing: Producer David Bond
"A gripping story of the desperate struggle to lead our computer-crazed children back to nature."
In this video George Monbiot argues that the more time children spend in the classroom, the worse they do at school because our narrow education system only rewards a particular skill set. He says that when you take failing pupils to the countryside, they often thrive – yet funding for outdoor education is being cut:
OK. Now let us continue our dialogue and conversation, children and nature:
To cut a long story short, there is no doubt that: “Green environments are an essential component of a healthy human habitat”, according to Frances Ming Kuo, a researcher documenting the positive link between nature and human health, and social and psychological functioning. Kou summarizes various research studies that show that humans benefit from exposure to green environments (parks, forests, gardens, etc.) and conversely, people with less access to green places report more medical symptoms and poorer health overall.
Kuo uses the phrase “Vitamin G” (G for “green”) to capture nature’s role as a necessary ingredient for a healthy life. Evidence suggests that, like a vitamin, contact with nature and green environments is needed in frequent, regular doses.
And now finally I wish to share with you a piece on why Mother Nature is the greatest teacher and why the natural world is the wisest classroom.
Mother Nature the Greatest Teacher
Mother Nature: “Speaks not a word in any human language, and yet everything in Nature inspires humanity to seek and learn, engendering awe, mystery, and an enthusiasm for uncovering the truth behind her workings, her creations, her cycles and her balance. As such, she is the primal teacher archetype of inspirational teaching and the root of all scientific enquiry. Hence, ‘science’ has been defined as “mankind’s attempt to understand Nature”. The great scientist Albert Einstein expressed it more dramatically stating, “We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what Nature has revealed to us.”
More than parent and student communities, the teaching fraternity needs to understand that the essential purpose of education is not to enable students to earn a living, but to learn how to live life. As the primal teacher, Mother Nature teaches both the secret of life, which is to respect all life, and also how to live one’s own life in harmony and balance with all creation, exemplified by the manner in which various species of the natural world live in peaceful co-existence.
Encouraging observation of the daily miracles of Nature has profound effects on students. One effect is a heightened appreciation of life and its wonders, with corresponding understanding of how each plant and animal contributes its own unique qualities, abilities and skills to the whole, complementing one another to enhance Nature’s overall beauty, practicality and efficiency. When this pedagogy is utilised and concept applied to society, it helps foster respect for others and their talents, and instills the desire in students to work together for the betterment of the community as a whole.
Nature’s greatest teaching technique for vital survival skills is ‘trial and error’. While the parents of a young animal may teach and demonstrate, the mastering of any skill can only come from the repeated attempts of the ‘youngster’ himself, and each failure becomes the foundation of learning for the next attempt. When this pedagogy is utilised in classrooms, teachers become ‘guides,’ encouraging students to seek their own answers, their own solutions to problems, and learn by doing. This also infuses creativity and enthusiastic participation into the learning process.
Nature is also an exemplary interactive teacher. She teaches us most vividly the concepts of action/reaction as plants and animals mirror our own state of mind — positive and negative. Plants and animals ‘respond’ in a positive manner to tender, loving care. Hence, from hardened criminals to the criminally insane, study after study has shown the benefits of people working with Nature, especially animals, not only for the individual, but for society as a whole.
These benefits become visible in the classroom as well when students work with plants and/or animals. In addition, students gain a sense of responsibility and self-satisfaction as life forms they nurture, grow and flourish. Extra-curricular group activities that include service projects in the community centred around cleaning and beautification of parks, waterways, and forest areas, reinforce the values of volunteerism and cooperation.
Today, humanity stands at the crossroads, both environmentally and in the field of education. We are in the grip of an environmental crisis that threatens the very survival of the human race — a crisis that has been brought about by our own destructive actions and activities. Global warming and climate change, species extinction and pollution are destroying the pyramid of life whose very foundation is Nature and her various ecosystems.
As the capstone of this pyramid, humankind is facing imminent destruction as its base of fertile soil, clean water and air provided by Nature is being steadily eroded, with species of flora and fauna disappearing at unprecedented rates. Already over 60 percent of the planet’s ecosystems are near the point of no return, according to the United Nations.
As educators, we have a duty to society not only to make our students aware of this crisis, but also to encourage them to do something about it, since it is they and their children who will inherit our planet-under-siege. By bringing Nature back into the classroom, we can instill in our students an understanding and respect for all aspects of creation. And by bringing students back into the ‘classroom of Mother Nature’, Nature herself will inspire them to act to protect her and their own future. The ripple effects of our actions will touch not only their parents and immediate community, but the nation and world as a whole.
The future is of today’s children. But it’s our duty to find and light the path toward regeneration and rejuvenation of Mother Nature, of planet Earth, to bring a greater understanding of the oneness of all creation, of which we are part. Once again, as Einstein put it, “Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
In writing this Blog, I have consulted the following sources:
Natural Learning Initiative:
World Forum Foundation
Pamela Gale Malhotra: Mother nature the greatest teacher :: Educationworld.in29:56
Below in a very intersting article by Richard Schiffman you can read more about the late Father Thomas Berry’s vision and story which I had briefly referred to earlier in this Blog:
Fr. Thomas Berry
“Bigger Than Science, Bigger Than Religion”
'The world as we know it is slipping away. At the current rate of destruction, tropical rainforest could be gone within as little as 40 years. The seas are being overfished to the point of exhaustion, and coral reefs are dying from ocean acidification. Biologists say that we are currently at the start of the largest mass extinction event since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. As greenhouse gases increasingly accumulate in the atmosphere, temperatures are likely to rise faster than our current ecological and agricultural systems can adapt.
It is no secret that the Earth is in trouble and that we humans are to blame. Just knowing these grim facts, however, won’t get us very far. We have to transform this knowledge into a deep passion to change course. But passion does not come primarily from the head; it is a product of the heart. And the heart is not aroused by the bare facts alone. It needs stories that weave those facts into a moving and meaningful narrative.
We need a powerful new story that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. We need a story that properly situates humans in the world—neither above it by virtue of our superior intellect, nor dwarfed by the universe into cosmic insignificance. We are equal partners with all that exists, co-creators with trees and galaxies and the microorganisms in our own gut, in a materially and spiritually evolving universe.
This was the breathtaking vision of the late Father Thomas Berry. Berry taught that humanity is presently at a critical decision point. Either we develop a more heart-full relationship with the Earth that sustains us, or we destroy ourselves and life on the planet. I interviewed the white-maned theologian (he preferred the term “geologian,” by which he meant “student of the Earth”) in 1997 at the Riverdale Center of Religious Research on the Hudson River north of New York City. Berry spoke slowly and with the hint of a southern drawl, revealing his North Carolina upbringing.
“I say that my generation has been autistic,” he told me. “An autistic child is locked into themselves, they cannot get out and the outer world cannot get in. They cannot receive affection, cannot give affection. And this is, I think, a very appropriate way of identifying this generation in its relationship to the natural world.
“We have no feeling for the natural world. We’d as soon cut down our most beautiful tree, the most beautiful forest in the world. We cut it down for what? For timber, for board feet. We don’t see the tree, we only see it in terms of its commercial value.”
It is no accident that we have come to our current crisis, according to Berry. Rather, it is the natural consequence of certain core cultural beliefs that comprise what Berry called “the Old Story.” At the heart of the Old Story is the idea that we humans are set apart from nature and here to conquer it. Berry cited the teaching in Genesis that humans should “subdue the Earth … and have dominion over every living thing.”
But if religion provided the outline for the story, science wrote it large—developing a mind-boggling mastery of the natural world. Indeed, science over time became the new religion, said Berry, an idolatrous worship of our own human prowess. Like true believers, many today are convinced that, however bad things might seem, science and technology will eventually solve all of our problems and fulfill all of our needs.
Berry acknowledged that this naive belief in science served a useful purpose during the formative era when we were still building the modern world and becoming aware of our immense power to transform things.
Like adolescents staking out their own place in the world, we asserted our independence from nature and the greater family of life. But over time, this self-assertion became unbalanced, pushing the Earth to the brink of environmental cataclysm. The time has come to leave this adolescent stage behind, said Berry, and develop a new, mature relationship with the Earth and its inhabitants.
We’ll need to approach this crucial transition on many different fronts. Scientific research has too frequently become the willing handmaiden of what Berry called “the extractive economy,” an economic system that treats our fellow creatures as objects to be exploited rather than as living beings with their own awareness and rights. Moreover, technology, in Berry’s view, potentially separates us from intimacy with life. We flee into “cyberspace”— spending more time on smart phones, iPods, and video games than communing with the real world.
Science and technology are not the problem. Our misuse of them is. Berry said that science needs to acknowledge that the universe is not a random assemblage of dead matter and empty space, but is alive, intelligent, and continually evolving. And it needs to recognize that not only is the world alive, it is alive in us. “We bear the universe in our beings,” Berry reflected, “as the universe bears us in its being.” In Berry’s view, our human lives are no accident. We are the eyes, the minds, and the hearts that the cosmos is evolving so that it can come to know itself ever more perfectly through us.’…