Let Nature be our Teacher - Explorations in Nature Education

2012-05-09

RProgramme Foci - Respect of Nature

"As White Dew and Autumn Equinox set in, the night is getting colder and colder…"

In a classroom, a dozen 6 to 8 year old children were loudly reciting the old folk saying with their two teachers, Caterpillar and Rose. A while ago, they had stuck out their small arms from their sleeves to feel the cool wind. They then looked around and alas, Nana who shared their desk had put on more clothes the last few days! After a while, the children went out of the classroom. With their teachers, they first looked at the Ginkgo tree in the courtyard. The borders of many of the small emerald green fans were turning yellow…oh, autumn was here! And so, the children continued to curiously look for signs of autumn in the vegetable beds and in the lawns of their school.

For children of this age group autumn was not something new, but they found this lesson on autumn fascinating. I have not described how the teacher in charge of the class, who was facilitating Teacher Caterpillar, shared his story about autumn and taught the children to recite some poems about autumn. It was just as much a pleasure for me, even though I was merely an observer.

This is a classics reading school in Beijing. The school places importance on children’s moral education and life training. Everyday learning includes reciting Chinese and foreign classics while subjects such as art education, labour and martial arts are also provided. While the school’s teaching method seems to return to old ways, it is actually rather radical since Chinese education has since modern times adopted western curriculum design, where subjects of learning are categorized separately. At the end of 2007, the Environment and Culture Office of Han Hai Sha began to work in this school. They wanted to practice “nature education” in the school. More accurately, they wanted to explore how nature education and classics reading education, which was rooted in traditional culture, might be integrated. What is nature education? How many possibilities are there for the growth of human beings? What kind of human beings do we want to nurture and what kind of society do we hope they will create? These are the basic questions behind explorations of new forms of education.

In mainstream education, human beings have become tools for social development and are targeted for this purpose. Nature education emphasizes concern for the person, autonomous learning and learning in the open air so that children might grow up in an environment where they feel close to nature. The purpose of education is to set free children’s nature and enable them to fulfill their pursuit in life, with the awareness that life and nature are interdependent. PCD hopes to explore the many possibilities of the development and growth of individuals. In anticipation that nature education will plant its seeds in the children’s growth process, we are also advocating reflection on the value systems, pursuits, lifestyles and interpersonal relationships of the urban population. In spite of everything, education remains an important tool to create a positive influence on the future and pass on social values.

The Environment and Culture Office of Han Hai Sha was established in Beijing in 2002. Han Hai Sha began as a charitable organisation concerned with desertification. Later, it came to the understanding that ecological desertification originated from spiritual desertification, and the focus of its work was shifted to self-reflection and change. It subsequently published Shan Shui Jian and organized activities such as film shows and tours of cultural and historical relics. It hopes to encourage the public to learn Chinese traditional culture which will help them to gain the strength and the courage to start self-education. In recent years, Han Hai Sha and PCD have been exploring the possible development of nature education in China, including the new direction of how nature education might be rooted in traditional culture. Han Hai Sha is now developing curricula that include training such as on-campus organic farming, waste classification and nature education that incorporates learning of the twenty-four Solar Terms. It is hoped that people will be able to better examine the relationship between human beings and land, human beings and animals and among human beings themselves, and thereby become advocates and practitioners of a green livelihood. In this way, people’s restlessness and materialistic mind-sets might gradually evolve into self-awareness, inner peace and satisfaction.

Besides working with the nature education programme of Han Hai Sha, PCD has also launched a nature education programme together with the Cultural Development and Education Centre of Peasants’ Children, Beijing. This programme targets children of migrant workers in Beijing and aims to use the nature education centre to revitalize the cultural awareness of these children who have their roots in rural villages. In the natural environment of the centre, “simple and natural” activities will be introduced into the everyday education of these children and their community.

PCD is also planning to provide learning and exchange opportunities as a means to develop nature education facilitators and to encourage local efforts in nature education.

Zhou Hui
PCD Urban Programme Officer

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