“Nature Smart” is the term educators use to describe activity, learning, and teaching. Learning and teaching within the sustainable cycle of Nature, is an idea that has gained increasing appreciation over the years.
“..nature challenges us, revitalizes us, humbles us, exhilarates us and restores our souls”
– Nicholas Kristof
New York Times journalist Nik Kristof, a great nature enthusiast, says this about the power and presence of nature:
The wilderness trims our bravado and puts us in our place. Particularly in traumatic times like these, nature challenges us, revitalizes us, humbles us, exhilarates us and restores our souls. It reminds us that we are part of a larger universe, stewards rather than masters of our world.
I first heard the term “Nature Smart” in a classroom, when I was studying for my doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the late 1980’s.
My professor, the eminent Howard Gardener, had developed his now well-known “Nine Types of Intelligence”. The list includes No. 3 – Logical-Mathematical (Number/Reasoning Smart) and No. 7- Linguistic (Word Smart).
He describes it this way:
“This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. It is also speculated that much of our consumer society exploits the naturalist intelligences, which can be mobilized in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of makeup, and the like.”
The twenty-first century will be the century of human restoration in the natural world.” – Richard Louv
In my field, the field of education, the ideas pioneered by Howard Gardener at Harvard, have been taken to further depths by researchers like Richard Louv, in seminal works like The Nature Principle, and The Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Syndrome:
Our society, says Louv, has developed such an outsized faith in technology that we have yet to fully realize or adequately study how human capacities are enhanced through the power of nature.
Supported by groundbreaking research, anecdotal evidence, and compelling personal stories, Louv shows us how tapping into the restorative powers of the natural world can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.”
Richard Louv appears convinced that through a nature-balanced existence—driven by economic, social, and environmental solutions—the human race will thrive.
Louv is passionate about “saving our children from Nature Deficit Syndrome”.
There is also new research being conducted between the tendency toward violent and destructive crime and the processed foods that affect our brain chemistry.
I do recall that when I was conducting research on the Kohlberg Theory of Moral Development with volunteers from the Phillips Brooks House Association we found that some of the students (at Cambridge and Boston high schools) who had been former gang members felt that their abuse of foods and alcohol had a direct effect upon their destructive temperament.
When I was a teacher in the inner city public school districts Harlem and the South Bronx in the late 1980’s, the students I taught had to be screened for weapons. Some were sent back because they brought knives to school, and occasionally, there would be a firearm – or two.
Most of the kids ate badly – processed fast food – cheap, accessible, and quite unhealthy for you, if eaten regularly.
But perhaps the most shocking realization I came to – even more shocking than a student having his 9mm handgun confiscated – was the fact that few, if any, of these children had been out in nature. Nature was an alien concept to these urban, inner-city school-children. That was a shock – they had never seen a forest, or a park, or waded through autumn leaves in the countryside or in the woods, collected chestnuts, skimmed and skipped flat pebbles on a country pond, or seen a herd of cows or a pack of squirrels or a gaggle of geese.
“In recent decades — amidst changing technological and social landscapes — the American childhood has rapidly moved indoors, leading to epidemic levels of childhood obesity and inactivity.” – The Outdoor Foundation
The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, in their latent wisdom, started to offer a program for inner city youth such as my own students, called “Nature Day”:
A student would receive financial sponsorship to go out to the country and discover the simple joys of hiking, eating home grown veggies, playing in the woods, collecting chestnuts, skiffing stones and watching the cows come home.
Fast-forward to two decades later, when I was a director of a charter middle school in Cape Cod, Massachusetts: these young students grew up developing an integrated respect for their natural surroundings. They were nature smart.
This was a community that put nature first, and the effects were tangible. They were passionate about the environment and they worked with the dedicated teachers to become pioneers – such as establishing one of the most efficient recycling and environmentally conscious middle schools in the entire state. Moreover, they were passionate participants in Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, and Goodall herself came to visit the school and spent a few days there, staying with the teachers and marveling at the dedication to nature.
These school children would spend their weekends picking up litter on the beaches – one of the students told me how he freed a seagull from getting its beak stuck in a can of beer on the beach. And their conservation efforts extended to working with Woodshole to prevent coastal erosion and preserve marine life. When you see school children so concerned about the fate of Nature, it gives you hope.
We see those pockets of hope, or, as Jane Goodall titled her book, A Reason for Hope; everywhere, amidst the increasingly toxic consumer culture we live in.
Richard Louv talks a lot about the potential of having a “hybrid mind” or a hybrid mindset, whereby we are neither givers nor takers, we are partakers and part-givers of the cycle of nature; we are nature-savvy participants.
Growing and eating your own food is ‘nature-savvy’ and is a concept that is increasingly valued in the school system in America thanks to the work of progressive organizations such as The Center for EcoLiteracy.
They are even restoring the lost art of eating lunch:
In their pioneering experiments with “Rethinking Lunchtime” they have helped to research and inspire policy commitments to support schools in planting and gardening cultivation as well as cooking curriculum:
“.. gardening and cooking programs are supported by federal nutrition education monies to schools ..where more than 50 percent of students qualify for National Lunch Program subsidies.
Professor Gardner’s concept of being Nature Smart is the one type of intelligence that most clearly connects with our soul, rather than simply our mind. It is not just logical, rational, mechanical intelligence, it is holistic intelligence based upon ‘connectedness’. ‘Connectedness’ is the very essence of The Brick Project.