The world has changed since my youth, of course. Change represents a culture shift as all things evolve and advance over time, but all change is not for the better. On the surface some changes appear beneficial but in reality are taking a small toll on the quality of life. In society today adults and children have changed their connection with nature and the transformation is having adverse affects on our existence.
A growing majority of people in our country has lost their connection to nature. When presented on TV nature equals a place of fear with dangerous animals roaming our neighborhoods, extreme weather, poisonous plants, dangerous rocks and so on. Animals, weather, and plants have always existed, but our current view of nature is different. People in our past history interacted with nature growing and catching food, creating shelter, earning income, and developing a spiritual life. Today our relationship to nature has changed in significant ways.
Many popular activities of today involve being inside of a car, house, restaurant, gym, basement, school, in front of a screen etc. People drive a few blocks to school, the local store, and to a friends house instead of walking to avoid nature. People stay indoors because the environment is too hot, too cold, too dangerous, too hilly, too whatever. Moving in your own neighborhood, a place with cement, asphalt, sidewalks, and lights is a common activity of the past. Even a small trip requires extensive planning and equipment so people can protect themselves from what exists outside the car windows.
Wondering how to encourage a large segment of the community to re-connect to nature, get some exercise, and change attitudes that are harmful to the environment, I considered how early childhood educators can lead the way bringing folks back to nature. Can early childhood educators facilitate future and current generations connecting to nature?
In Early Childhood Education a movement exists that I believe will help the larger community and country regain some of our connection to nature. The forest school movement represents a growing part of our field. Forest schools are primary and elementary schools that educate in the forest. This type of school was popularized in Europe in the 1950's and many great schools exist in that part of the world today. In the U.S. forest schools have existed since the twentieth century, in small batches and in specific parts of the country where living connected to nature is viewed as an important part of life. Now the forest school movement has infiltrated the mainstream and this creates an opportunity for all.
By teaching in the outdoors and embracing nature, the forest school is poised to create a generation of children who will reclaim their connection to the outdoors and grow up with an appreciation of nature and a connection to nature that can be passed on to their children. The forest school movement constitutes an opportunity to exhibit that the great outdoors features more to offer than something to fear and helps people appreciate what nature offers to humanity.
Educators working in the forest school movement have embraced the opportunity to share stories about learning with children in the forest. Many great schools share wonderful stories on their websites showcasing all of the opportunities that present themselves to children in the forest. By sharing our stories of how children and educators connect to nature will help facilitate new connections to the outdoors in a society obsessed with screens, watching sports, and sedentary pursuits.
What aspect of your program helps children connect to nature?
What additions to your program will increase the opportunities for children to connect to nature?