“The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky.” Rachel Carson
Nature is all around us, whether we live in an urban place or the wide-open space of a country farm. From the air we breathe, to the ground we walk on, the ant walking on the pavement to the bird flying overhead, nature is always there. In fact, we ourselves are nature. Yet we are living in a time when people are so disconnected from the earth and all the beauty of the natural world that Journalist Richard Louv, 13 years ago, coined a phrase to describe what he considered to be a world-wide epidemic, “Nature Deficit Disorder”.
“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness. This disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.” Richard Louv
Here at Educated by Nature we believe that if we are to regain our place within the natural world, if our society is to once again find our connection with the world around us, we need to start by supporting and mentoring children to have the time, space and permission to be in nature and to experience the joys that nature can provide.
Inspired by the work of Jon Young and the 8 Shields Institute we explore the way that nature connection occurs. We develop opportunities for children and families to spend time in nature, fully immersed. Jon often speaks about the 4 different ways we interact with nature as human beings, four levels if you will, that provide different forms of connection.
“We have a nervous system. We have a circulatory system. But what most people don’t realize, is that we also have a connective system. We have an instinctive longing to connect with nature, with family, with community, and with the deepest parts of ourselves. This need is not being met so well today.
Connection is a different process than that of education or recreation, though it relates to both of these; it is connection that we most need in the world at this time. Its deepest expression requires (and creates) a culture of mentoring and support. A simple but powerful way to begin is by connecting with nature through awakening the senses.” Jon Young
The Four levels of Nature Interaction
1. Nature Information
The first ‘level’ of nature-related interaction can be considered ‘Nature Information’. The knowledge acquisition process of learning about nature. These interactions with nature can happen indoors, within books and lectures, lessons and even YouTube. These are the interactions where we gain facts about the natural world often through the lens of science and we learn about the world we live in.
2. Nature Experience
Next comes the level of ‘Nature Experience’. This level refers to the activities we do in nature. Often referred to as recreation, Nature Experiences often use nature as the venue for an experience. We play sports, we run, we picnic, and we commute. In these opportunities we get to witness nature. We might see animals, we pass plants and features of the natural world, but there isn’t necessarily a connection to nature that occurs, or at least this is not the primary purpose of the experience.
3. Nature Connection
At the third level, we explore the notion of ‘Nature Connection’. Those moments in time, often accidental, that result in emotional connections being made due to an engagement with the natural world. It might be the moment of witnessing a rainbow after a sun shower, seeing a dolphin while playing at the river, plunging yourself into the icy cold water and swimming in winter, climbing a tree and noticing the texture of the bark.
This third level is of incredible importance since many of these opportunities occur during childhood and are experienced through play in the outdoors. These experiences are the stories that people share when you ask them about their favourite childhood memories. They provide a foundation for developing a comfort of being in nature and help to make the first two levels more meaningful. This is particularly true of the Nature Information level as we provide real life experiences on which we can hang the knowledge.
4. Deep Nature Connection
The fourth and final level is where ‘Deep Nature Connection’ comes into play. This is where we aim to ‘place’ the experiences we provide during our programs with children. Deep Nature Connection extends on from Nature Connection primarily through the addition of mentoring. Mentoring from people who work alongside an individual or group of people to guide and support within opportunities to play, learn and live within the natural world. As Alexandra Trenfor poses so beautifully, “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” A successful mentor teaches in invisible ways that help to guide people into rich relationships with the natural world, a relationship which fosters a true sense of belonging to feel part of a greater system. They provide opportunities to be present and aware and then support this awareness with reflection and the art of skilled questioning.
Mentoring as a Tool
Jon Young explains the process of mentoring by saying, “[it] draws people gently to the edge of their knowledge and experience and guides them into new territory. You have to watch carefully for what will capture their curiosity, engage their natural gifts, and challenge them in ways they can handle in their personal learning journey. Look for their edges: the edge of their comfort zone, the edge of their awareness, the edge of their knowledge, the edge of their experience. Then, you can stretch and pull them to a new edge, and then another, deeper and deeper into a sense of comfort and kinship with the wildness of the natural world.”
So, we think carefully and are intentional about the ‘container’ we create. That is, the programs we develop and the training of our staff, to ensure we are providing the right environment with just enough adult support to allow for children’s natural curiosity, innate knowledge of nature, in built sense of wonder and passion for discovery to guide them on their personal journey. All the while we journey alongside them, dropping questions at their edge, providing resources when they need them and helping to cultivate within them a deep connection to the natural world.
“And yet, again and again we see this simple approach work miracles. Coyote mentoring brings children alive; their internal armour dissolving as they open to the world, step into the truth of who they are and all that they can be. There is such magic in watching a child experience what it is to be a human being who is fully connected to themselves, to others and to the word at large.” Bluegum Bushcraft