What is Nature Pedagogy?

Nature Pedagogy feature image

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.”

Ken Robinson, 2011

Definition Nature Pedagogy:

The term “Nature Pedagogy” is defined quite differently throughout the world and often has many subcategories and educational approaches. Where I come from in Germany there are many differentiations such as Forest Pedagogy, Experiential Nature Pedagogy, Experiential Pedagogy, Experience Based Learning, Nature Related Environmental Pedagogy etc. There are certain principles though which are commonly shared:

  • Nature as a teacher and integral part of the learning experience,.
  • Education as a holistic process.
  • Play as essential element of learning.
  • Focus on experiencing rather than solely gathering information.
  • Love and respect for Nature. 
  • Realisation of Interconnectedness.

As Claire Warden puts it beautifully:

“Nature Pedagogy is a way of working with children and creating settings for care and education that embraces nature. It includes the educational environments we create, the process of assessment and planning, and the learning journeys that we encourage children and families to take throughout childhood. Five years after I started using the term, I have refined the definition for Nature Pedagogy through the process of doctoral research. I now define Nature Pedagogy as “the art of being with nature, inside, outside, and beyond.”

“Education is a blend of experiences, which draws on culture, community and curriculum. Everywhere I work there exists a unique blend of educational elements, which create wonderful learning spaces for children and young people. There are also spaces that are adequate, but which are not inspiring places to learn. These schools and settings tend to have invested too much in the functional aspects of tables and chairs, without considering that tables do not make a school; dynamic teaching and empowered learning does.”

Jon Cree and Marina Robb from “The Outdoor Teacher” (2021) in their wonderful book “The essential guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy” write:

“What is pedagogy?

The word ‘pedagogy’ is often used within education. Simply stated, it is the method and practice of teaching. A pedagogue walks alongside us, understanding learner’s needs and interests and providing relevant experiences. Nature Pedagogy is the practice of teaching alongside nature and the learner. We are endlessly nourished by nature and have an inbuilt ’natural operating menu’ that is influenced by external sensory input into our vast internal sensory and electrical systems within the body.”

Nature pedagogy sees education as a holistic, wholesome process. 

Priorities are:

  • Nature as the classroom/learning space (whenever possible).
  • A playful approach.
  • Fostering of curiosity.
  • Freedom and motivation to explore and experiment.
  • Opportunities for risk taking within a supportive network.
  • Facilitating multi-sensory experiencing.
  • Encouraging creativity.
  • Mindful awareness and engagement, promoting a sense of wonder and awe. 

Apart from children’s developmental and educational progress, these methodologies support a greater sensitivity and connection to Nature, and with that a desire to play an active part in creating a more sustainable world. Nature pedagogy is lived and experienced education, learning by doing is an integral approach in all activities. 

Experiences in Nature unfortunately are not part of everyday life for many families anymore. A changed society and modern living circumstances, particularly in urban environments, prevent the regular contact with elements of the natural world, but this contact and direct experience is not optional for children’s physical, mental and emotional development, it’s as important as a healthy diet. Only in nature and the outdoors do kids encounter all four non- negotiable sources for their development: freedom, immediacy, resistance and connection.  Another important aspect of education in Nature is the sensory stimulation when learning outdoors.

Through the simple fact of movement, rather than a sedentary position at a school desk, children get so much sensory input, supporting and motivating their learning. When we add different air temperatures, wind, sunshine, the smell of soil, the texture of stones, mud and tree bark, the buzzing of bees, just to name a few of the uncountable experiences in the natural world, it becomes clear how important the sensory aspect is in this approach and how beneficial it is to children’s overall development and learning.  Especially children who find it hard to concentrate and sit still in a formal classroom environment can benefit greatly from Nature Pedagogy. Outdoor learning lends itself beautifully to honour and respect different learning styles and support children in their individual strengths and needs.

Other goals and benefits of Nature Pedagogy:

  • Development of a strong immune system.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Support of gross and fine motor skills.
  • Building of self-confidence, independence and resilience.
  • Development of problem solving and self-evaluation skills.
  • Development of all the senses.
  • Sparking curiosity and creativity.
  • Learning of values and key social and cognitive competences.
  • Co-operation.
  • Freedom to explore and play.
  • The realisation that everything is inter-connected and how things and processes affect each other, most importantly the role us humans play in these interactions.
  • The realisation, feeling and knowledge that they/humans are part of Nature.
  • Time for rest and mindful awareness.
  • A feeling of belonging, kindness, compassion and love for the natural world.
  • A desire to live respectfully and sustainably in order to protect and nurture the environment.

Our 4-week CPD accredited training “Mindful Nature Education” is a wonderful introduction and provides a large body of information and resources ready to use for educators, parents and anyone else involved in children’s lives. Resources include our Mindful Games, Mindful Nature Pedagogy Impulse Cards and Posters, further reading lists, links to helpful websites and various colouring and activity packs.

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