Does being in nature lead to caring for nature?

What is the connection between being in nature and caring deeply for nature?

CBC interviewed author Richard Louv to discuss his latest book

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Chris at Burstall PassTwo broad themes stood out for me. One, that kids need more unstructured free play time where they can roam in a natural environment (be it in an urban park or a hike in the woods). Two, that by spending time in the natural environment, kids will develop more appreciation for the environment.

There’s no doubt that this issue of connecting with nature strikes a chord with those of us concerned about the Earth’s environment. I’ve heard the argument before that we should spend more time in nature.

But does being in nature lead to caring for nature?

Well, I suppose it depends on what kind of caring one would like to develop for nature. I consider many of the farmers in Alberta to be quite in tune with their natural environment; yet, many draw water at unsustainable rates. I have friends who love the outdoors 4x4ing and ATVing in the outback. Can they be said to care for nature? On the other hand, do my city-born and bound friends who fight to reduce their eco-footprint care any less about nature?

Don’t get me wrong. Having nature as your playground is still a time-tested way of developing a sense of your power for exploration and discovery. Everyone should have the opportunity to grow and nurture plants as well as see life beyond just the human kind.

What is needed is an understanding of our connection to nature. How does an ecology work? How are we a part of it? What is our impact on it? Being in nature alone is not enough. The author may speak to that in greater detail as I have yet to read the book.

What do you think? What does it take to truly care for nature?

Ten Tips for Education

IDEO created ten tips for creating a 21st C classroom experience. Here are three I’m glad they highlighted:

1. Pull, don’t push.
Create an environment that raises a lot of questions from each of your students, and help them translate that into insight and understanding. Educa­tion is too often seen as the transmission of knowledge. Real learning happens when the student feels the need to reconcile a question he or she is facing—and can’t help but seek out an answer.

[Chris – And how will students determine what kind of questions are worth facing? I would even broaden out this out to wondering how adults are choosing what kind of questions to reconcile in their life. I’m glad the list contains #9]

3. Stop calling them “soft” skills.
Talents such as creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy, and adaptability are not just nice to have; they’re the core capabilities of a 21st-century global economy facing complex challenges.

[Chris – I remember making this exact same point to a group of young entrepreneurs from Junior Achievement. Soft skills are not only hard but necessary. However, I would add that what is lacking in this world is not the concrete pieces of technology, nor even the traditional “soft” skills (although they should be emphasized more), but it’s our conduct and caring to apply our skills wisely that is needed.]

9. Incubate the future.
What if our K–12 schools took on the big challenges that we’re facing today? Allow children to see their role in creating this world by studying and creating for topics like global warming, transportation, waste management, health care, poverty, and even education. It’s not about finding the right answer. It’s about being in a place where we learn ambition, involvement, responsibility, not to mention science, math, and literature.

[Chris – Yes, yes, yes! It amazes me that I could have gotten through elementary, junior high, and high school and not once visited the local water treatment centre or come face to face with the marginalized in the community. I had to rely on volunteering during the summer months for that.]

[Chris – And here is one tip that I think is misleading.]

8. Be an anthropologist, not an archaeologist.
An archaeologist seeks to understand the past by investigating its relics and digging for the truth of what was. An anthropologist studies people to understand their values, needs, and desires. If you want to design new solutions for the future, you have to understand what people care about and design for that. Don’t dig for the answer—connect.

[Chris – I get the spirit of this statement in designing for the living, breathing culture of today, but it misses the importance of the past. Social systems are more complex than technological systems. Humanity can’t be understood without having a strong grounding in how they came to be. For instance, look at what we have unearthed and uncovered on Easter Island, and the lessons we can learn there about how people deal with environmental crises. We in fact need to be both an anthropologist AND and archaeologist.]

[Chris – Do you have any other tips for the 21st century classroom?]

Risk-Taking for Kids

I was secretly scanning my fiancee’s library and came across a book related to my last post: Too Safe For Their Own Good – How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive by Michael Ungar. In it, he gives some thought as to the benefits of properly encouraging and supporting kids who take calculated risks:

  • Risk-takers are more likely to trust their own judgment
  • Risk-takers have learned to respect the capacities of others and themselves
  • Risk-takers know their limits
  • Risk-takers understand the consequences of their actions
  • Risk-takers (when grown up) are the ones who most readily reach out for help
  • Risk-takers confidently assert their independence

Yes, risk-taking has a dark side; many of the kids my fiancee works are in trouble with the law because of their self-destructive risk taking behaviours. But it speaks to the need of guiding kids to engage with productive life challenges.

It should come as no surprise that judgment and capacity can only be developed by engaging with real challenges. There is a big difference between following instructions or complying with an authority and actually exercising your own will to complete a project. When I reflect back to my school days, I realize it was my voluntary extracurricular activities (not necessarily the school work) that allowed me to create my own sense of self and power.

How are we at teaching or encouraging our kids to take risks?

How do we balance are need to protect them from danger and allowing them to make mistakes?

How are we, as adults, at learning to take risks?

In fact, try this question on for size. When was the last time you intentionally took a risk, big or small?

Five dangerous things you SHOULD let your kids do

1. Play with Fire
Learning to control fire is a pivotal moment in every human’s existence.

2. Own a Pocket Knife
It’s like the first universal tool you own. It’s a screwdriver, prybar, and a knife too.

3. Throw a Spear
Our brain is wired for throwing things. It trains both physical and analytical skills.

4. Deconstruct Appliances
Puzzling out how things work is good practice for developing a sense that things are knowable through investigation.

5. Drive a Car
It’s an empowering act for a young child. (Make sure you’re still in the driver’s seat).

…excerpt from talk by Gever Tulley, founder of Tinkering School. See Gever’s talk at the TED Conference