One of the most influential books in environmental education (EE) is Beyond Ecophobia – Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education by David Sobel. I have been thinking about the tenets of Sobel’s research-based philosophy this week.
There have been several studies that looked at which childhood experiences are most important to the development of strong environmental values in adults. The answer was really simple. 1.) Many hours spent outside in a wild or semi-wild place and 2.) Time with an adult who taught respect for nature. This is why we do what we do at Audubon.
According to Sobel and many others, the primary object in early childhood should be empathy between the child and the natural world. We want to create deep emotional connections that help support the larger ecological concept that everything is connected to everything else.
Young children do not yet have the abstract, logical thinking that would allow them to process big, faraway, hard-to-solve environmental problems. Their world is here and now. Trying to teach young children about the kinds of environmental issues that keep us adults up at night can actually backfire. Children tune out and turn off. Sobel calls this effect “ecophobia” – fear of environmental problems and the natural world. His rule is “no tragedies before 4th grade.”
This week the Nature Preschool launched the “Planet Pals” curriculum, a preschool EE program that introduces environmental characters as superheroes. While we share conservation values with the children constantly, the Planet Pals offer a concrete framework to talk about and explore specific parts of the environment, and a way to connect the children emotionally. “Mother Earth” is the earth beneath our feet, full of life and giving life. “Green Bean” is all things that grow. “Sunny Ray” becomes not just the far-off sun, but a relatable character with the power to warm you, light your way, and help plants grow.
We did more directed activities this week, but also gave the children plenty of time to just play. Playing in nature is probably even more important than anything we teach them about nature. Play is where the children connect to each other, and in a deep way, to the wild.
We want to celebrate the child’s curiosity and sense of wonder. We want to share our own love for a wild place and the wild things that call it home, including the children.
Stories this week:
Frogs and Locusts – oral storytelling about working together to make things better
Under Ground by Denise Fleming
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (We know! It’s a tragedy, but with hope at the end that is very concretely tied to planting that last Truffula seed.)
How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun – oral storytelling (Native American traditional story)
November Circle Song (to tune of Itsy Bitsy, mostly)
November leaves are lovely
They rustle when I run.
Sometimes I make a heap
And jump in them for fun!
Autumn leaves float quietly down
And form a carpet on the ground
But when those leaves are stepped upon
Hear the crackling sound!
November Closing Poem
I like the woods
When dry leaves hide the ground
When the trees are bare
And the wind sweeps by
With a lonesome rushing sound.
I can rustle the leaves
And I can make a bed
In the thick dry leaves that have fallen
From the bare trees