Tag Archives: Outdoor Education Issues

The removal of nature from our dictionaries.

The word “beaver” has been removed from Oxford University Press’s Children’s Dictionaries. I heard this on Algonquin Deficit Disorder – Terri LeRoux at TEDxAlgonquinPark.

Really?

I was shocked, and then I was angry.

You can find the TEDx Talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UNIoyChaJA. But perhaps you shouldn’t watch it. You might get mad. You might walk away from it and try to ignore it – like I did. But then I had to go back to watch it in its entirety. And I’m glad I did; it inspired this blog entry, and a few to follow I’m sure.

So what if they’ve removed beaver, willow, acorn, kingfisher, heron and raven from children’s dictionaries? What’s all the fuss? In reality, each new edition of every dictionary drops dozens of words and adds a bunch of new words and phrases to better represent the current culture. You know – keepin’ up with the times. We wouldn’t want dictionaries to be missing mp3, digital, and countless other new and relevant words and phrases, would we?

And there’s the problem – relevancy.

According to Veneeta Gupta of Oxford University Press, “Changes in the world are responsible for changes in the book.” (This is when I left the TED Talk the first time.) Apparently, I’m a dinosaur. While my kids might agree with that based on my chronological age (and not the nature words I use), it scares me to think that our society is losing its connection with nature. The removal of nature-based words reflects our lack of connection with the natural world.

The Children and Nature Network, http://www.childrenandnature.org/, has been collecting and analysing lots of research. Did you know that most children can no longer identify 10 common plants and animals? If I challenged you to list a variety of tress, plants, flowers, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, you’d come up with dozens. (Some of you could likely list hundreds!) Not so for today’s youth. They can, however, identify dozens of corporate logos.

Name these brands Name these plants

So it seems that those of us who have an understanding of the ways of nature are becoming extinct. Some would argue that there is no need for concern; this is just a natural progression from total connection with nature in pre-history, through good connection during the agricultural age, to weak connection through the industrial revolution. The next logical step would be no connection to nature in our digital age.

No connection to nature means that we don’t value it. What we don’t value, we won’t protect. So if we have no connection with nature, who will protect it? Those of us who are connected to the natural world know the consequences of disconnection – environmental degradation, and the loss of the earth’s life support system. Since we rely on the natural processes of the earth for survival, we need to ensure our survival by making sure future generations value nature.

In my next blog entry, I’ll share my philosophy on environmental education for our survival.

The importance of getting outdoors

Where do I begin?

Do a Google search for the “importance of getting outdoors.”  About 36 million pages are out there, from everywhere around the globe.

Getting outdoors must be important, then!

The current guru for getting kids outside is Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and The Nature Principle.  Both of these books are well worth a read.  You can also read his blog at http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/category/featured/, and watch a short video at http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/video/.

But the concept is not new.  Others have known and written about this reality for decades, too.

  • “We need the tonic of wildness…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  • “Now I see the secret of making the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.” Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  • “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  John Muir

Here’s a different perspective:

  • “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

And finally, as an educator, I can relate to this sentiment, (though it’s not exclusively about getting kids outdoors, the outdoors certainly can be the spark):

  • “Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things.  Awaken people’s curiousity.  It is enough to open minds; do not overload them.  Put there just a spark.  If there is some good inflammable stuff, it will catch fire.”  Anatole France

All of these quotes are from a favourite book of mine, The Earth Speaks – An Acclimatization Journal by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler.  It was published by The Institute for Earth Education in 1983.  (The Institute is currently re-building its website.)  However, you might be able to find a copy of this book elsewhere on the Internet.

So, what do YOU know?  Care to share your thoughts, or what others are saying about the importance of getting outdoors?  I’d like to hear about research into the area, as well as personal anecdotal experiences of significance.  You know – when you had your first “profound” experience outdoors… What was the context?  Where was it?  Were you alone, or with others?  Here’s a chance to tell us all what the outdoors means to you on a personal level.

I’ll start.  When I was in grade eight, our family moved from Windsor to Bracebridge.  It was there that I made my first “spiritual” connection with the earth.  In Windsor, I valued my wanderings through Yawkey Bush, (Now Ojibway Park), and in Bracebridge, I spent hours wandering through the woods of Muskoka.  But one day, while out on a photo expedition, I was laying on my stomach to get an interesting shot of a fern.  I ended up closing my eyes, and putting my face down on the forest floor.  I stayed like that for several minutes, breathing slowly in and out.  Breathing in the earth’s breath.  The rest of the world disappeared.  I melted into the leaves and became part of the growing soil.  I gave myself up to the earth, and became part of her, (you know – Mother Earth…).  I became part of creation in a way I’d never experienced it.  I was filled with peace and contentment.

I’ll never forget the smells of leaves and soil that filled my nose, my lungs.  Writing this reminds me of how simple it is to be at one with the earth.  When I close my eyes now, I can reach a meditative place with no past and no future.  Just the slow breathing in and out of earth’s breath.  Ever-connected to the universe.

Now it’s your turn… What does the outdoors mean to you? Leave a comment, below.