Biophilia and children, green pedagogics...
Sometimes we recognise things by intuition, and it is always satisfying to find out the background to this unconscious knowledge. We also feel things that we later identify, perhaps by meeting another person who has experienced the same thing. Recently, many of us have rediscovered and learned to appreciate something fascinating: being in relationship with nature.
Mobility has been greatly reduced, but our daily lives do not seem to have changed much, although they are more restricted. We work, we study, we read on the couch, we go for coffee with caution. So what is the reason for this feeling? We sigh at the thought of walking down a country road and take a deep breath. We like the social media posts of those who depict plants and animals from the forest. We envy those who have a house with a garden in these quiet areas, oblivious to the excitement of last year. Somehow nature fascinates us more than before, or maybe we are rediscovering something we always had inside us. What is happening to us? Why do we miss something that we didn't even appreciate that much for a long time?
A specific reading gave us an answer to all these questions and clarified our own perception and experience in the field of green pedagogy.
The Biophilia Effect by Clemens G. Arvay manages to scientifically explain many of these assumptions we had. Thanks to his and many other studies (experts in forest medicine, biologists, healers, botanists, scientists ...) we enjoyed the result of understanding ourselves a little better.
For this reason, we dedicate this article to biophilia and explain the effects on childhood in a further step.
What is biophilia?
Biophilia, in Erich Fromm's sense, is the human bond with life. Love of life translates into love of nature, something that existed long before this psychotherapist and philosopher named it in the 20th century. In fact, we have seen it reflected a thousand times in books and films until it became a cliché: Didn't the indigenous people of those old films defend their land above all else and declare themselves not the owners but the brothers of all? With a certain mysticism, these characters allowed us to glimpse a society in harmony with its environment, a people who loved and respected nature above all else. Even today, some cultures are particularly saddened by environmental degradation and retain an awareness of symbiosis that others seem to have forgotten.
Edward O Wilson proposed the biophilia hypothesis and explored more about our relationship with nature resulting from a long evolutionary process. He believes that there is a so-called "web of life" to which we belong. Indeed, it is absurd to think of the human organism as something isolated from its vital environment, as if it were a machine. We will return to this point later and speak of the immune system.
Forest bathing in Japanese culture
On a more spiritual level, shinrin yoku or forest bathing was practised in Japan long before any of the studies we have mentioned. It is the activity we recommend and is increasingly accepted by mindfulness teachers as it incorporates all the benefits outlined in the previous sections. All we need is a relaxed natural space and the right attitude: we need to start accepting what is happening, acknowledging our own presence and experimenting with all the senses of our body.
The prerequisites for immersing ourselves in a forest bath are simple
We are in an open and natural space. If we can choose the place, it would be ideal to go to an environment that fascinates us, to let ourselves be carried away by the landscape.
You can stay in place, sit, climb a tree or go for a walk. Everything works, but under no circumstances should you hurry. Haste is the worst enemy in this exercise. Spend time doing it because nature does not understand busy schedules.
Share the experience if you like. Even though it is personal, you don't have to do it alone. A friend, your partner, your son or daughter .... they can benefit from practising with you.
What benefits do you experience after the forest bath?
First and foremost, your mood will improve as cortisol levels will be reduced and therefore stress will subside. Your defence system, the immune system, will be strengthened due to the decrease in stress hormones, while the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system will increase. That same night, your heart rate will be more leisurely, you will rest better and the next morning you will conserve energy for longer.
Biophilia and wonder in childhood
So far we have expressed our concern about the nature deficit and the logical solution as well as scientifically proven: spend more time in nature. Since we are a nature-connected children's group, the next step would be to apply all this interesting information to pedagogy, our speciality. To do this, we draw on the writings of biologist Rachel Carson, particularly her books Silent Spring and The Sense of Wonder, as this writer's love of nature shines through in her narrative and moves us.
Rachel Carson conceived The Sense of Wonder as a guide for the classroom as she felt it was extremely important to nurture children's innate feelings of wonder. Unfortunately, this feeling eventually wears off, especially if the child is surrounded by adults who do not share their sense of wonder. But Carson believed that it was possible to cultivate wonder in childhood, to foster it as a starting point for the child on his path to maturity and to develop an inner life that would sustain him as an adult.
"If facts are the germ that later gives rise to knowledge and wisdom, then emotions and sensory impressions are the fertile soil in which the germ must grow. The childhood years are the time to prepare the land. " - Rachel Carson
It makes sense then to say that a child who cultivates and preserves their sense of wonder will also internalise values in their contact with nature. They will build a relationship of respect, admiration and affection for nature that will never cease to amaze you.
"Is exploring nature just a nice way to spend the golden hours of childhood, or is there something deeper? I am sure there is something deeper, something that endures and has meaning. " - Rachel Carson
Our conclusion is that children need nature. It's not just about taking advantage of it or enjoying it for a while. They really need it to build a healthy relationship with the planet they live on, to feel empathy for other living things. By exploring wilderness areas, they strengthen a bond that has been damaged by our way of life over the past centuries.
The World Health Organisation itself, looking at recovery from the current COVID-19 crisis, decided that despite the urgency to get afloat again, we cannot return to the pace we had before. They stated, "We must protect and preserve the source of human health: nature." This reference to nature as the main source of human health is a clear message, as neither our children nor we will enjoy good health if we distance ourselves from our origins.
"Once the emotions, the sense of beauty, the enthusiasm for the new and the unknown, the feeling of sympathy, compassion, admiration or love have arisen, we desire knowledge of their origin. Once you find it, it has lasting significance. It is more important to prepare the way for the child who wants to know something than to give him a lot of data that he cannot absorb. " - Rachel Carson