Dear future…we knew!
Why including experiential nature education into our school curricula could save our planet!
Iceland has just held its “first funeral” for a glacier (Okjökull), with the attendance of around 100 mourners including Iceland’s prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson and local and international scientists.
The following plaque with this heart breaking inscription was mounted on a rock on the land that was once covered by the glacier:
“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it. August 2019”
(Photo Jeremy Richard/AFP/Getty Images)
These words really affected me deeply but something else happened when I read them: I am doing a course on nature based mindfulness with the lovely Dr. Nicole Albrecht at the moment, and only a couple of days ago I read this passage in a research article:
“Conventional thinking was that increasing knowledge can strengthen attitudes in addition to change behaviors; however, Hungerford and Volk(1990) have suggested that increasing environmental knowledge does not directly contribute to pro-environmental attitudes and, ultimately, behaviors.” (Cheng, Monroe, 2010)
I had a bit of a lightbulb moment as I connected the dots between these two passages…
I shared a cover of the British GQ Magazine on Facebook during the week, which pictures Greta Thunberg in a business suit with the slogan “Can you hear me?” written in bold on her jacket. I shared it because on the same day I had been to the supermarket to buy some freezerbags, feeling really bad as I wasn’t able to find anything reusable for my purpose. I looked right and left and what I saw really affected me. There were trolleys full of groceries mainly packaged in disposable plastic. Many of the items unnecessarily so. I understand that it can be difficult to be completely plastic free, and big changes are needed from the supermarket chains and the producers that supply them. But it’s also down to every one of us to be pro-active and make necessary changes. I asked myself what’s going on in people’s heads that change seems to be so difficult and slow despite the critical situation we are finding ourselves in… all of us, not just “the others”.
The truth is: We all know what needs to be done!
Maybe not the details that concern industries and governments more than individuals, but we know!
We also know that we have no time left to be hesitant, to be undecided, to be ignorant and reluctant to change our behaviours.
Yet there seems to be an air of “it doesn’t concern us”…”we can’t change things anyway”…, “it’s not our responsibility”… and even…”it’s not actually happening… fake news”!!!
For a long time I had asked myself this question: what seems to be the problem that the reality is just not sinking in? After reading the two aforementioned, seemingly unrelated passages within the same week, something that I might have subconsciously suspected struck me like a bang and the following quote in the same research article tied it all together:
“Schultz (2002) also suggested that a sense of inclusion with nature is associated with understanding how an individual identifies his or her place in nature, the value that he or she places on nature, and how he or she can affect nature. He suggested that connectedness to nature, caring for nature, and commitment to protect nature are core components of inclusion with nature. If a person experiences inclusion with nature, he or she should care about nature and be committed to protecting it. However, if an individual experiences exclusion from nature, that person will protect himself or herself over nature.”
I grew up in a rural part of Germany beside a forest with parents who loved nature and taught us a lot about our environment. Most importantly we spent most of our childhood in nature, unsupervised with our friends in the forest, by (and in ) the stream, in meadows and fields, building dens, eating wild raspberries, picking mushrooms, coming home with scratches, holes in our pants, dirty hands and full hearts.
For me being in nature is not optional, it’s as important to me as eating, drinking and sleeping. I never really thought that this could be any different for other people as I see humans as part of nature, not as a separate entity, apparently due to my childhood experiences. Research seems to imply, that if humans don’t have a connection to nature for whatever reason, this will greatly influence their attitudes and behaviours towards nature. There appears to be a definite correlation between being immersed in the natural environment as a child and an affective, caring and protecting attitude towards nature in later life. For people who didn’t have the opportunity to make that connection, even though they might know in theory what needs to be done, there is a crucial link missing that prevented the development of an empathic response to the protection of our planet.
So what could we as a society do about this? We all want a worthwhile future for our children and future generations…
For a long time I have promoted the inclusion of experiential outdoor learning in schools and beyond. It was more about the well-being and development of the children though and the multiple benefits outdoor activities bring. Even though a respect and protection of nature and our planet was always part of it, I didn’t realise that introducing children to regular nature connection might be a crucial missing link of actually saving our planet, of implanting the necessary attitudes that will affect behaviours and influence our actions. I know this might sound a bit easy and naïve but if we want a change in people’s behaviours and attitudes, we need to start with early intervention in our families and schools. Children have a natural desire to connect with nature and I quote the following passage in my book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution:
“In their book Wie Kinder heute wachsen – Natur als Entwicklungsraum (How children grow today – Nature as an environment/room for development), Herbert Renz-Polster, a paediatrician and scientist, and Gerald Huether, professor for neurobiology, speak right from my heart when they say that for children and their development, nature is not “optional”, it’s as essential as a healthy diet for growing up. Only in nature and the outdoors do they encounter all four nonnegotiable sources for their development: freedom, immediacy, resistance and relatedness (connection). Children have an innate desire to connect with nature. They will strive towards it even in the most horrendous circumstances as the following example shows: In a report about “everyday life” in Mogadishu by Michael Obert, a small boy with a nasty scar on his forehead is seen to water a little tree on the side of the road. The water is trickling through a hole in a plastic bag. When asked about it he answers with pride in his voice: “I planted it myself. My tree. I will care for it and when it’s big I will sleep in its shade!””
We urgently need a change in our education system if we want to positively influence our children’s future and the future of our planet. Only through first hand experiences and connection we literally connect the dots and develop a wholesome and affective view of how we fit into our natural world, that we are not a separate entity but part of this planet. That we all affect each other’s health and well-being and that of the earth. There is no time to waste and action is needed now.
Let’s do this together… get out there into the forest, to the beach und up the mountain. Feel your connection to all that is on this beautiful planet and let’s give our children the opportunity to do the same… for all of our future.
To read more about introducing a more mindful lifestyle and being part of a positive change check out “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution” and our Mindful Games. Thank you!
Also available now: Mindful Games for parents and educators.