"Nature play is superior at engendering a sense of self and a sense of place, allowing children to recognize both their independence and interdependence."
- Scott Sampson
from his book 'How To Raise A Wild Child'
Why should nature study be an intentional part of your child's education?
As David Orr, professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, says "All education is environmental education...By what is included or excluded, students are taught that they are part of, or apart from, the natural world."
Children need to spend time in nature to feel connected to it, to learn from it, and to want to protect it. But let's put aside the tree-hugging, save-the-planet aspect of environmental education for a moment; it is not my point today. Let's look at environmental education from a purely career standpoint.
While in some careers, nature’s role is clear: geologist, zoologist, park ranger, farmer, landscape architect, environmental 'fill-in-the-blank'. But how can nature help your child's future career that has seemingly nothing to do with nature - how can it help them be a better engineer, architect, doctor or whatever their path may be? This is where I believe biomimicry and 'wholism' overlap.
"Education is the science of relations."
- Charlotte Mason
Biomimicry is the imitation of nature's processes and designs, 'mimicking' nature, to solve to a modern problem.
"Nature has already solved most of the problems now facing human engineers and designers. By tapping into these solutions, or 'adaptions', we're learning to grab solar energy like a leaf, create color like a butterfly, grow food like a grassland, and recycle our waste like a swamp...No longer merely something to learn about, nature is transformed into something to learn from" (Scott D. Sampson in 'How To Raise A Wild Child').
This is biomimicry. Looking to nature. Watching. Seeing how nature solves the problem. Then taking that information, that conceptual solution, and adapting it to solve our problem. It isn't using nature for the actual solution, it is simply taking the ideas from nature.
Probably the most well known example of biomimicry is velcro. Velcro was invented in 1941 by a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral after removing burrs from his dog. He decided to take a closer look at how the burr's tiny hooks made them stick, which inspired him to create what we now know as velcro.
Nature offers solutions to so many problems that we face, everything from medical to plumbing. Plumbing may not seem obvious, but shells are made up of mostly calcium carbonate, something that we don't want to build up in pipes...nature has a natural way of stopping that build up. So when looking for this solution, they could either use a bunch of harsh chemicals to fix the problem or look to nature and imitate what it it does naturally. But, we first have to have the thought to look to nature for those solutions, and that comes with having a connection to it.
Wholism, or holism, is the idea that the whole is more than the sum of it's parts. That in order to understand something fully you need to look at the entire entity.
Colin Campbell explains the concept of 'wholism' so well in his book 'Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition', the following is an excerpt in which he explains the value of the big picture view as well as the benefits of the detailed up close view.
“An old story: Six blind men are asked to describe an elephant. Each feels a different body part: leg, tusk, trunk, tail, ear, and belly. Predictably, each offers a vastly different assessment: pillar, pipe, tree, branch, rope, fan, and wall. They argue vigorously, each sure that their experience alone is the correct one.
...You could argue that the six men, each focused on an
individual part, together produce a richer and more detailed description of an
elephant than could be generated by one person just walking around looking at
the creature in it’s entirety. Similarly, think of the level of detailed
understanding that 60,000 scientists can glean when they are empowered to focus
on such granular component parts.
The problem arises only when, as in the parable, the individual points of view are mistakenly seen as describing the whole truth. When a laser-like focus is misunderstood as a global overview. When the six men or 60,000 researchers don’t talk to one another or acknowledge that the overall goal of the exploration is to perceive and appreciate the whole elephant. When they assume that any view that questions their own is simply wrong.
…Reduction [should be] used as a tool in the service of wholistic understanding…”
If we don't have a concept of the big picture we can't solve the little one. Sure, you can apply a band-aid to a skinned knee and fix the problem...and sometimes that's all you need, the whole view may not be necessary. But with many larger problems we need a view from above, a wider angle lens, of how things all work together; whether that's parts of the body, pieces of a machine, or systems of a design. We have to have to learn to step back and see the larger picture, then with our goal in mind take a closer look and examine the 'infinitesimal details'.
This is exactly what happened at Apricot Lane Farms in the documentary "The Biggest Little Farm", when John and Molly Chester were dealing with a coyote killing their chickens, snails eating the leaves on their fruit trees, gophers, among other things. In reflection about their dog Todd, John says,
"Todd is staring deeply at these almost infinitesimal details. Like he is decoding how the world around him works...So I've started doing the same.
And I think I've figured out what ducks love more than ponds...[snails]. In just a single season they devoured over 90,000 snails, and better yet, they turned them into fertilizer for the trees.
So with every new problem that popped up,
I'd first take a step back and watch it.
More cows and sheep...more manure. To the fly this is the food for their babies, maggots. But I realized maggots are just more food for chickens. This reduced the fly population to a manageable amount of coexistence.
Observation followed by creativity is becoming our greatest ally."
So back to our initial questions: Why should nature study be an intentional part of your child's education? And how can nature help in your child's future career that may seemingly have nothing to do with nature?
Your child doesn't have to be the next John Muir to benefit from having an understanding and appreciation for nature. By being in nature, kids learn; they learn about the world around them, they learn that they are just one small piece of this great big world. As Richard Louv says in 'Last Child In The Woods', "There is something about nature - that when you are in it, it makes you realize that there are far larger things at work than yourself." Kids learn to look to nature for understanding and awe, but learn that there are things we may not yet (or ever) understand. Simply put, by being around nature kids learn to look to it, to notice it.
Many children today don't spend the time in nature that is needed. According to the National Recreation and Park Association children today spend an average of only 4 to 7 minutes a day of unstructured outdoor play, while the recommended amount is 3 hours. Make your kids the exception to this average.
Being able to step back and come up with solutions in places that others may never think to look is a great asset for your child and one that will differentiate them in the workforce. Nature provides solutions, but so many ignore this wealth of knowledge.
The concepts of biomimicry and 'wholism' overlap because so many times in life, and in our careers, we have to step back and observe, open our eyes to new ways of thinking, and this is only better when we step back and observe nature. By being immersed in nature and learning about it children gain an understanding that they are "a part of it, not apart from it" and to look to nature for that wider view recognizing solutions that are already there (then drilling down to observe and study the details). Let "observation followed by creativity" become your child's greatest ally...give them the gift of nature!
But let’s get back to that tree-hugging, save -the-planet aspect for just a minute. By spending time in nature children develop a connection to it, an appreciation for it, and what we appreciate and love we naturally want to protect! So just like nature, one thing aids another and it all comes full circle 🙂