How do you teach children to love the Earth?
It’s all very well, making a paper plate craft about the life cycle of the frog. But what about going outside to see what real frogspawn looks like?
Writing down the various parts of a tree on a school worksheet is great. But what about going outside to really look at a tree?
Learning about endangered animals through a wildlife documentary is wonderful. But what about going to observe the beleaguered local fauna? From bees to the humble hedgehog and the cute puffin, to name just a few, there is no shortage of vulnerable animal species on our doorstep, wherever we happen to live.
If there is no physical connection to the very nature that surrounds us, all this so-called “learning” happens in a sanitized vacuum, detached from reality.
Dirt is good. We all know that. Dirt is what we come from and what we’ll return to, in the end. For all the walls we have erected around ourselves to keep nature at bay, we remain part of the web of life on Earth.
Children instinctively know this. As parents, we simply need to nurture that connection to the natural world. Become gardeners so our children can bloom. So they become custodians of this beautiful living planet.
We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappiness which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world.”
The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
Grow to Love Earth
My passion for outdoor learning goes back to our expat days in Denmark in the late 2000s. My eldest son, then aged 3, attended a small skovbørnehave (forest kindergarten) for a year.
Passion for outdoor learning
Despite the language barrier, he thrived and the outdoors became his natural habitat, whatever the weather. The experience opened my eyes to the boundless world of outdoor learning. A world where children roam and play freely, explore nature with all their senses alert, learning vital life skills along the way.
Ten years and many outdoor adventures later, my four children don’t see themselves as separate from the natural world. They are at one with the mountains, the rivers, with the forests and with the sea. They belong.
That’s not to say that they don’t enjoy their creature comforts, or a game of Minecraft (in fact, my younger two are obsessed with it!). But as soon as we step out the door for an adventure, big or small, in nature, they feel at home.
Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
The oldest will want to light a campfire with his flint & steel, my daughter will go to the water, the third will climb up a tree and the little one will search for worms in the mud.
It has been over a decade of going on outdoor adventures as a family, and of searching high and low for meaningful outdoor learning opportunities for them – forest school camps, nature after school clubs, etc.
There are several reasons why we love being an outdoor family (I listed them in a post called Adventures R Us). Yet I’m only coming now to the realization that this powerful connection to nature is precisely what we need in this age of ecological breakdown.
Outdoor learning nurtures children’s (and ours) sense of belonging to the planet, thus turning us into nature-smart humans.
As adults who care, we also need an outdoor education. Rooted in a deep connection to nature, we can start imagining a different world, with and for our children, rather than simply striving to find our place in this failing system hurtling full speed towards disaster.
There is no place like Earth. We need to start seeing nature not as a resource to exploit, a pest to control, or even a vast playground, but as our rightful home.
The only one we have.
And it all starts with two words – go outside!