Why is contact with Nature so important?

El medio natural es esencial para nuestra especie porque de él hemos surgido y en él nos hemos desarrollado a lo largo de cientos de miles de años. Nuestros cuerpos están perfectamente preparados para crecer y aprender de manera óptima en ese entorno. Necesitamos la naturaleza especialmente en la infancia, para madurar nuestro organismo, en general, y nuestro sistema nervioso, en particular; gracias a ella también construimos  una identidad autónoma, en relación de interdependencia con los demás seres vivos. Por eso debería ser un derecho fundamental para todos los niños, niñas y jóvenes, pero también en las otras etapas de la vida. Nature is essential for our species, we were born from here and in nature we have developed for over hundreds of thousands of years. Our bodies are perfectly prepared to grow and learn optimally in that environment. We need nature throughout our lives but specifically in childhood, to mature our organism and our nervous system, nature also helps us build an autonomous identity, in relation to our interdependence of other living beings. That is why it should be a fundamental right for all children and young people, but also in the later stages of life.

What advantages does nature have?

Since the 80s, Environmental Psychology research has confirmed the benefits of natural environments for health, well-being, development and learning. In the case of children and young people, it increases their physical activity, their psychomotor abilities and spatial intelligence, improves overall health, reduces anxiety and stress, favors cognitive functions (memory, attention, concentration …), develops creativity, fosters social relations, promotes resilience … These are just a few of the positive effects of nature. We live in a time when most of our children suffer a deficit of nature, due to our artificial way of life, so contact with nature has become even more important and necessary.

Are trips to the country side enough then?

Unfortunately no. Cultivating a link with Nature goes far beyond simply taking in a landscape as if it were an extravagant decor. It is a way of being, of feeling, of living and relating to the rest of the living beings and with ourselves. The phenomenon of urbanization (almost 60% of the world’s population reside in cities) and sub-urbanization (parts of the countryside that have become suburbs), is heavily ingrained in our culture, our minds have also been urbanized: we are perfectly happy being surrounded by a heavenly paradise like environment, while we are closed inwards, unable to feel or live it. It is also not enough to go to the green from time to time. A daily relationship is necessary to embark on a process of transformation that has biological, but also psychological and cultural repercussions.

When was our link with nature severed?

It has been a gradual process in Western culture, it might have begun when, in classical Greece, the concept of culture was understood as opposed to that of nature, civilization opposed to savagery and the human being opposed to the animal (when in reality we are all animals, we are just a specific type, like all the rest)… The trend accelerated greatly with the industrial revolutions which have left a mark we call Anthropocene, at the geological level on the Earth’s surface. By simply adapting and transforming the environments for our well-being, we have begun to build increasingly artificial environments that keep us isolated and harm our physical and mental health. Consumerism is a way to fill a void, a substitute that helps us somewhat satisfy our basic human needs in roundabout and, ultimately, unsatisfactory ways. Some of the most important human needs are the feelings connection and belonging, but there is also the need for fresh air (have you ever wondered why we says we need “fresh” air when we want to go outside?), Movement, communication, expression creative … or the need for meaning, which is also part of our nature.

What is Green Pedagogy?

Green Pedagogy is a set of concepts, ideas and strategies to accompany human development by cultivating our innate bond of love for the Earth and all the beings that inhabit it. Heike Freire devised this concept in her first book, “Green Education”, drawing inspiration from the Swiss author Alice Miller, who speaks of white and black pedagogies, and other authors who have referred to red pedagogy. The color green is a metaphor, because the planet is of all colors (and much more blue than green). Heike Freire understands Nature in a broad sense, everything that has not been manufactured, that grows and develops by itself, that does not need a battery to move … It includes stones, water, fire, earth, air, vegetation, the animals (also the human animal that we are), in addition to bacteria, algae and fungi and much more.

What are the basic principles or ideas of Green Pedagogy?

Green Pedagogy understands the human being as the seed of a tree or a plant that carries within itself everything it needs to develop. Like all other beings in the plant and animal world, to grow and learn we need time and peace, love and trust in our natural processes, in the intelligence of life that is expressed through our innate wisdom. Green Pedagogy understands that the environment is the first educator: it conditions our health, well-being, learning and behavior. The task of a pedagogue is to know it, take care of it and, if necessary, contribute to designing it. In addition, learn to accompany based on the lived needs, which is not the same as satisfying desires. For all this, you need to deepen your own link with nature. We educate with our being, not with methods and techniques.

How can schools favor contact with nature?

Before talking about how, I think it is important to consider why. The deficit of nature and the benefits of nature contact tell a story about how closely our health and the health of the planet as a whole are related. We all know that today we live an unprecedented environmental crisis. In this scenario, schools have an enormous responsibility: to lead an unprecedented cultural transformation that allows us to evolve from a biophobic society that is full of fear, lives with its back to Nature, and destroys it, towards a biophilic society (of bios = life and filos = love), whose main reason for being is love and care for life.

Can we learn anything and everything outdoors?

It has been proven repeatedly that Nature is the best means for a holistic development and healthy learning. In some countries such as Scotland, for example, the entire Infant, Primary and Secondary curriculum is being taken to natural spaces. We are also working outdoors with adults in various types of therapies for development and prevention. But, depending on the age of the participants,
the characteristics and the type of skills, we can combine indoor and outdoor spaces to great effect. Both are complementary in the learning process.

Where should we begin?

We need to expose our schools to nature, to their surroundings, to take lessons out of the classroom or, at the very least, properly define times and spots for interior and exterior activities. The environment should be the means of learning, we should link it completely to our natural processes. Almost everything can be learned outdoors. Nature is a mother and a teacher. From that daily relationship we can begin to foster a culture of love for the Earth. Adopt a non-anthropocentric perspective that allows us to learn to live together. In practice, it is about increasing the frequency of contact: you can undertake a process of transformation of the decor of outdoor spaces (achieving only superficial results) or make better use of the nearby natural environments, ideally within the framework of a biocentric educational project.

And, what can I do?

There are many things you can do as a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, education professional or from what ever position or location you are in. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of attitude, in your way of living, of being with others and accompanying children, young people and adults. Small changes can have large impacts. What’s more, the posibilityies for transformation multiply by joining a community of people whose ideas and values are similar to yours. And if at some point you get discouraged or think that things are going in the opposite direction, ask yourself which side you want to be in: where do you want to invest your energy?

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