The term ‘Earth Education’ (EE) is probably nowhere as near familiar to most folk, than say ‘Outdoor’, ‘Nature’ or ‘Environmental’, Education, but its still underpins much that we do in those areas.
Developed in the 70’s, and perhaps at its ‘height’ in the 80’s and 90’s, EE took a new path to learning about Nature. Steve van Matre, is one of the key original Earth Educators, and continues to promote EE and its key crucial skills, approaches and values around the world. It evolved at a time of increasing environmental awareness and activism, and when new ideas about education and learning were being explored. It set itself apart form ‘traditional’ Environmental Education, which tended to follow subjects (‘lets do some geography or biology in the outdoors’), it avoided ‘naming and labelling’ nature and focussed on a more holistic 3 key areas: feelings, knowledge and action.
EE reasoned that we needed to know the basics systems of Ecology, rather than just what things ‘were’. So it studies Earth systems like cycling, energy, Biodiversity and interrelationships. Even more uniquely, EE understood the need to develop positive and deep connections with the natural world. If the recent ‘Blue Planet’ series taught us anything, it is that, as humans mostly totally removed from the effects of our life on natural systems, we need to connect with nature to be motivated to help it. And so EE featured reflective, sensory and ‘immersive’ activities to make these abstract concepts and lost feelings real and immediate.
All this was designed to lead to action. EE reasoned that the ‘traditional’ approach did not do this. Examples of the comprehensively brilliant programmes that were developed are Sunship Earth and Earthkeepers.I first came across EE nearly 30 years ago with Earthkeepers, and even as an ecologist and conservationist, I re-learned the basics, its always great to revist the foundations.
But really it was the sensory work that blew me away – discovering how to ‘be’ in nature. The focus on personal calming and mental health benefits was way before its time. I run wellbeing in Nature courses structured around ‘Forest Bathing’, itself developed in Japan in the early 80’s. The similarities in both are striking. As we seem to move more and more into a society cut off from nature, I would say that the sensory and feelings part of EE is probably even the most important and urgent to offer to people.
EE has been at the heart of all my work since, and I continue to work with a small collective of similarly experience folk through ‘NEST’ and together we have delivered and promoted many EE programmes and sessions, including our own Earth Magic programme. More about that some other time.
Find out more about us at: https://www.facebook.com/NorthernEducationforSustainability/?ref=settings
The Earth Education Institute is the source of all the work, and can be found at:
I am also a committee member of the Earth Education UK, a network of skilled Educators, promoting and sharing EE:
At Wildcraft we deliver lots of ‘traditional’ Nature Education too: Curriculum and subject based and linked sessions on Habitats, Species Identification, Ecology, Interpretation of Human and Landscape history too. Both ends of the spectrum have their value and uses, and strangely, if you look hard enough at many current ‘traditional’ Environmental activities, you will find the influence of EE running through activities, an almost forgotten source. Everyone is getting Back to basics.
Yours in Wildcraft