A Way Towards Nature Education for Young Children

Fizala Tayebulla

A child’s mind can be full of novel stories and play | Credit: Fizala Tayebulla | CUES | Location: Barpeta, Assam

The brain-to-body mass ratio in humans is relatively higher in comparison to any other species. This can be seen simply by comparing the total number of neurons of a human brain with that of other species. For instance, while the human brain is composed of 16.3 billion neurons, the number of neurons in the brain of a Rhesus Macaque and a Gorilla is 1.71 billion and 9.1 billion, respectively. Humans also undergo a longer period of physical and cognitive immaturity. In other words, the period of dependence of young on adults is much longer in humans than other species.

The period of early childhood thus becomes very crucial to human growth, the child’s exposure and nurture at this stage is known to help reach their maximum development potential as adults. Humans are most sensitive to the environment in the period of rapid brain development: 0-8 years old (pre-natal to 3rd grade students). Children’s early development necessitates nurture and care- provided by parents, educators and family members, creating an enabling environment conducive to learning for the child.  The importance of investing in Early Childhood Education has been recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals (to be attained by 2030), evidence from neuroscience shows brain architecture development being effectively supported by planned intervention in early childhood. Research indicates long-term consequences of this stage of development on parameters such as health, earning/income, productivity and contribution to a sustainable world. Similarly, studies in economics show a high rate of return to society in the form of a healthy workforce, higher income, lower depression and criminality, and psychosocial wellbeing into adulthood when investment in early childhood development is greater. The role of culture, development and use of language, modes of socialization at this stage of child development is primordial.

It is an increasingly popular view that play-based programs in early childhood learning (as part of education/academic institutions) is a highly effective technique to engage children to acquire and retain knowledge. It is a familiar observation that the best way to learn is when we are able to understand the content contextually and apply it to solve problems.

‘Quest to Learn’ School was founded in partnership by the Institute of Play and the New York City Department of Education, where teachers work with game and learning designers from the Institute of Play to develop narrative-based learning experiences, design challenges, and games for students to push their learning or assess their understanding. These experiences are designed to provide students with a “need to know” – an exciting reason to want to learn their subject matter. The outlook to creating knowledge in Jenaplan and pedagogical tact in early childhood education, is to guide children to be independent, self-steering and cooperative in a group. The approach of knowledge creation in education with children is not by treating science as a mystery, rather as part of a broad range of knowledge we all have and use daily. It is important to help inculcate an understanding in children that their senses of vision, touch and hearing are their ‘science tools’, and their brain is the powerful computer that can store and retrieve knowledge, reason, infer and deduce. Besides, there are other very specific School Programs like the ‘Earth Partnership’ – an outdoor learning curriculum for native habitat restoration which work with the agenda of creating and nurturing meaningful community learning and land stewardship, promoting ecological literacy and fostering hope among young people and adults to take action to ‘heal’ the land.

In India, ‘nature’ is located deeply in its religious and cultural ethos. Promulgated by scholars, leaders and philosophers like Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi time and again. In 1991 and 2003, the Supreme Court of India mandated the inclusion of environmental education as part of formal education in India.

“The school curriculum should highlight the measures for protection and care of the environment, prevention of pollution and conservation of energy”

National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT)

Environmental Studies (EVS) is based on some ideas of infusing environmental concepts with other subjects like mathematics and social sciences in order to not treat environmental studies as a separate discipline. While it is seen as a course with solutions found in science, developing a sensibility towards environmental concerns is as much a cultural and social process. Solutions in creating environmental sensibility in children will perhaps not be achieved in unending loops of ‘awareness’ campaigns and plantation drives. Effective intervention in promoting environmental education is when knowledge is created between educators and children in a nature-based setting by shared experiences and consciousness. Allowing children to embrace their curiosity and engage with the natural environment with a sense of ‘wonder’ and ‘joy’ could be seen as a more effective way for children to find their location in their relationship with nature.

Bibliography:

  • Black, M. M., Walker, S. P., Fernald, L. C. H., Andersen, C. T., DiGirolamo, A. M., Lu, C., … Grantham-McGregor, S. (2017). Early childhood development coming of age: science through the life course. The Lancet, 389(10064), 77–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31389-7
  • Fleer, M. (2009). Understanding the dialectical relations between everyday concepts and scientific concepts within play-based programs. Research in Science Education, 39(2), 281–306. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-008-9085-x

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