IAPENE Principle 5: Engagement in the natural world is a dynamic process that engenders awareness and an embodied, integrated perception of form, colour, sound, movement, touch, smell, taste and awe.
Example: We become aware of the features of the natural world as an interconnected series of sensations and develop an understanding of it being a complex living organism with ongoing potential to generate life.
This principle goes to the heart of Eco-nnection: ‘A state of being where one feels themselves part of nature, ecologically, ethically and culturally. The natural world is perceived through all the senses as creative melding of embodiment, affective intensities and consciousness on a temporal continuum within which all actors are engaged in mutual flourishing (Ward, 2022).’
Having once been yoga teacher, I associate this state of eco-nnection with the Ajna or Third Eye Chakra. The image is created through the sensation of walking through the natural world with an outpouring of energy radiating out from third eye point creating two connected circles that go back in an arc on either side and meet at the back of the head. The outward projection puts us out into the world and as the circles begin to turn they are transformed by what has been encountered and bring it back through the body as experience to be incorporated with our being. This embodied experience includes meta cognition of sensations of movement, sight, sound, smell, touch, and affective feelings, that arise from interaction between the human and non human world (Ward, 2016).
In terms of contemporary theory, Taylor’s common worlds (2017), and Barad’s (2007) performative matter resonate with this concept insofar as they highlight the decentring of the human and provide an imagination of moving through the world and interacting with matter respectively. Through these theories we can see ourselves as part of the fabric of the planetary elements. We are made of water and matter, sustained by air and food matter through biological systems akin to the non human, animal and plant world (Malone, Moore & Ward, 2019) all supported by our sun. The sense of eco-nnection related to our position on the planet, through our affective intensities or feeling life, supports an ethos of mutual flourishing, and love for our place on/with the earth. This in turn, helps to generate embracing a nomadic ethic (Braidotti, 2006) where we recognise that we constantly change through engagement with multiple influences (including the natural world) as part of our mutual becoming. This is also echoed by Wilsons (2014) idea of care of the commons where our ethical sense of being and nurturing is developed through and with our interaction with the human, non human worlds and the planet.
To engage in pedagogy that supports children to develop this element of eco-nnection, it is difficult to go past the arts. When we recreate our experiences in the natural world through story, music, movement, painting, drawing and media arts processes, not only can we can relive the intensity and the embodied sensations to bring the experience to life once more, we can also develop heightened sensitivities that support conscious recognition of the embodied experiences when heading out into natural environments (Ward, 2017). To encourage a child to create a poem or simple song or to engage in dance or visual arts representations of what they have experienced provides an additional layer of ‘knowing’ and remembering. Such activity can accompany educative tasks such as reflective writing or descriptive narratives for discussing and learning from experiences in the outdoors.
Formal curriculum is full of opportunities for engagement with the non-human world. Science, citizenship or language lessons that investigate impact of city noise on bird song; projective geometry that starts with the Fibonacci series found in the growth of many organisms; investigation into the intelligence of squid; stories about the social dynamics of Orca whales or Meerkats, can all be turned into experiences that are both relevant to curriculum requirements and serve to deepen the sense of being on, and with, the planet. The process of underpinning every lesson we do with content related to the world on which we live and infused with creative exploration, is, arguably, an obligation on the part of every teacher. Indeed, the need for experiences in the natural world and deeper engagement in topics related to it was strongly expressed by young people across Scotland in recent research (Ward, Birch, MacDonald, Beresford-Dey, Lakin, Purcell & Searle, 2022). However, this means as teachers, we also need to engage in the sensorial dance that is dynamic interaction with the animal, plant and elemental environments with which we live.
Braidotti, R. (2006) Transpositions on Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press, UK.
Malone, K., Moore, S. J. and Ward, K. (2019) Children’s Bodies, Sensing Ecologically: A study of Pre-language Children’s Ecological Encounters. Centre for Educational Research: Research, C. f. E.
Taylor, A. (2017) ‘Romancing or Reconfiguring nature? Towards Common Worlding Pedagogies ‘, in Malone, K., Gray, T. and Truong. (eds.) Reimagining Sustainability in Precarious Times Melbourne: Springer.
Ward, K. (2016) ‘Beyond Sustainability – Visions of Post-humanist E-connection in Early Childhood Education’, in Malone, K., Truong, S. and Gray, T. (eds.) Reimagining Sustainability in Precarious Times. London: Springer, p. pp. Chapter 9.
Ward, K. (2017) ‘Singing in the Forest: Outdoor Education as Early Childhood Curriculum’, in Gray, T. and Mitten, D. (eds.) The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Outdoor Learning. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ward, K. (2022) ‘Possibilities of Educational Becoming(s)’, Scottish Educational Research Association Conference: Reconnecting educational research, policy, and practice. Ayr, Scotland.
Ward, K., Birch, R., MacDonald, T., Beresford-Dey, M., Lakin, L., Purcell, M. and Searle, B. (2022) Learning for Sustainability: Young People and Practitioner Perspectives. Edinburgh: Scottish Government Research and Analytical Division.
Wilson, R. (2014) ‘Care of the Commons. Care of the Soul: Sharing is the path to a greener, more peaceful world.’, Commons Magazine, August 11. Available at: https://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/care-of-of-the-commons-care-of-the-soul (Accessed: 08/05/2023).