I had a rather strange exchange this week with a lady requesting online education materials to teach her 5 year old about the importance of recycling. Whilst I appreciate what she was trying to do, it got me thinking about how we begin to educate our children to become responsible custodians of our planet.
I fully understand where she was coming from. I’ve been a passionate campaigner for better protections for our environment, both politically – when I’ve been a candidate in the General Election in the UK, and as a protester joining with others to voice our outrage at the seemingly willful destruction of our home. It can be tempting to begin to share these ideas with our children from an early age, but so far I have resisted ( mostly!) and focused on the lesson of love.
Research undertaken by Professsor Louise Chawla at The University Of Colarado noted that:
‘When activists or environmental educators talk about what has inspired their commitment to the environment, half to more than 80% mention childhood experiences of nature as a significant influence alongside family members or other role models which were equal or second in importance..’
I believe that truly deep learning begins and ends with experience. Children need endless opportunities to just be in nature and watch the orchestra of the seasons unfold in real time. They need to spend part of every day playing in natural environments; experiencing the sounds, smells, colours, shades and feel of the natural world. They need to revisit the same natural area again and again to give them the opportunity to see the changes, which naturally emerge over the course of the year. They need to see the bare branches of the wood begin to come alive with the lime-green freshness of the first spring leaves, see the first blossoms swell into full blooms and delight in the sound of the bees visiting each flower. They need to feel the change when a sudden chill fills the wood and the first leaf begins to reveal its autumn hues, and then see the glory of the colours and feel the crisp leaves beneath their feet.
Sadly most schools don’t provide this for our children. Son Number One goes to our local primary school – a ‘forest school’, with a truly outstanding nursery, run by a very special kind of practitioner, but even this only translates to one session per week spent in the forest for the children in the rest of the school, the remaining time outside spent playing on a concrete playground during break times and lunchtimes. Frustratingly this session is frequently cancelled as it occurs at a time when other events take place in school, such as special assemblies.
School leaders should make play in the outdoors an absolute priority, especially since it has been linked time and time again with improved educational attainment and hugely improved behaviour resulting in far less conflict between children. I believe that children have an absolute right to be able to play in beautiful environments and to experience them everyday as part of their learning.
Only then, after many years of playing, experiencing and loving, will the child be ready to learn about how to protect. Only then will they be able to make the connection between the scientific study of ecosystems, the cycles on which we all depend and the many ways in which we are part of a closed system. Only then will they be ready to embrace the challenges ahead and learn what is needed to protect.Only then will they know that our very existence is woven into this fabric.