Learning from the Land – An Opportunity for Self Discovery

 

Introduction:

I could hear the rumble of the water as the ice melted that day. The sun helped warm the air as the transitioning between the seasons began to emerge from winter to spring. The waters were high, yet some snow lay on the path as I tiptoed onto some rocks. I wanted to get closer. I wanted to see the water gods spray their mist over me, cleansing my soul as I move into a new chapter in my life. I offer tobacco in gratitude for the most important life element we have. Water!

Stories from the land are often passed down from generation to generation where tales about myths, monsters, adventures, personal reflections, teachings, have engaged listeners in a shared experience. The stories have influenced and shaped who we are and what we discover about ourselves. Sharing these stories help spark creativity and motivate us to think about the answers to life’s questions. They help connect us to history, to other communities and culture, raise awareness, and strengthen our depths of learning as a student (at any age). They also create emotional connections between the student and the land itself. Why are experiences like learning from the land not a common practice in a traditional educational system? Is it better to think of informal ways of teaching when trying to engage students today? The answer is yes; we need to have more creative ways of learning in order to help and support students. By turning to more indigenous forms of education, students can have an opportunity to create again, using their imagination for optimal performance and student learning potential. Through personal reflection (my journal entries from the land experiences are italicized throughout the paper), story sharing from Elders, and other resources, I elaborate how learning from the land can be beneficial for students of all age groups. Creating the aesthetic learning experience from the land can help grow and foster learning potential.

 

Defining Traditional Education and the Problem:

Traditional education is known for standardized educational institutions and practices from the past, which includes a regulated place (a school), facilities with rooms divided into simple classrooms, rows of desks, a structured day, and students that are divided into age groups and given standardized tests to measure their development. This is an enlightenment view of intelligence created in the economic boom of the industrial revolution. Yet a school system that was designed over 100 years ago, has been inundated with an intensely stimulating environment for children. Items like computers, cell phones, or the boom of social media, make it difficult for students to concentrate in the classroom. While there are many positive ways teachers can run classrooms, students still need to have creative and interesting outlets to help them understand the curriculum in order to keep them engaged. This is a problem addressed by Sir Ken Robinson’s video, Changing Educational Paradigms, which included the following, “What we are trying to create in the future, we are doing so by looking at our past” (Robinson, 2010). What he means is, it’s difficult for us to forecast student success and looking at our past should not be a way to solve this problem. What has worked in the past will not work anymore for the future.

Robinson says these are things that have worked in the past; however, the current system was designed for a different age in history. He explains, “ [I]t was conceived in the intellectual culture of the enlightenment… and industrial revolution” (Robinson, 2010). It was a system designed as a form of public education. The intellectual and economic model of traditional education, in his opinion, “has caused [us] chaos.” By chaos, he means there is a great deal of confusion; why aren’t students engaged in schools as they were before? If you are interested in a model of learning to achieve optimal growth of student development, it’s essential not to begin with a standardized form of education like we have done in the past. In our current society where over-stimulated children are attending traditional education, this concept isn’t working anymore for optimal growth and student development, which is a huge problem. A conventional educational place, once created for intellectual and economic growth, no longer helps the student grow and therefore we need to develop alternative ways to achieve student development.

 

Thesis Statement, Questions, and Supporting Arguments:

Learning happens in a wide variety of places. Non-traditional outlets of education can be classified as anything beyond the walls of a traditional educational institution. Learning from the land can create aesthetic experiences for students in a way that diverts their attention away from their phone and into the present moment. Students of all age groups can engage in land-based education to help them develop and learn in a variety of different ways other than sitting in a chair looking at the blackboard. On a personal experience, I teach in a non-traditional way where my entrepreneurial business focuses on active, healthy living. My classroom is usually in a local park, where the walking trails become learning opportunities for my students. In an environment that is more aesthetically pleasing, my students can enrich themselves with natural energy, making their experience more emotionally connected with their learning material as they become more present in the moment. By creating these aesthetic opportunities, students can feel emotionally connected to these experiences and therefore connect with themselves to strengthen their educational development.

Questions to Consider:

• How can we create alternative learning opportunities for students?
• Is there an opportunity to create aesthetic learning experiences from the land?

 

Braiding Sweetgrass

At the root of this course was an amazing read by Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass. Her book of wisdom, knowledge, and teachings celebrates a life that is both ordinary and magical, filled with many gifts from good-hearted communities and the land itself. She wrote about her interactions, which are not solely with human groups but are equally and necessarily important interactions with the natural world. She shares her own personal growth from the time spent with the land which provides a beautifully woven narrative piece of writing in conjunction with scientific knowledge. She introduces readers to a language of flora and fauna that is readable right in front of them, and nudges at times, her readers to recognize an inclusive reciprocity with our environment. As much as I have loved and taught outdoor education myself, her book helped me grasp a new concept of reciprocity and relationships.

In one section of the book, she points out how her students interact with the land, where she, as a teacher steps aside to let the land do the work. I can only imagine the humility and trust put forth in her experience of land teachings and science. Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges with people, places, and things. It is about the unconditional act of social gift-giving without any hope or expectation of future positive responses. This is demonstrated in the growth she went through while learning from the land. The land becomes the teacher, and the teacher isn’t necessarily responsible for a structured curriculum, “[T]hey provide orientation, but not a map. They work of living is creating that map for yourself” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 7). Like the book itself, this paper reflects multiple examples of how creating an opportunity to listen and learn from the land will be beneficial to students in the future. Through a non-structured space, creating aesthetic experiences will foster curiosity and growth amongst students of all age groups.

 

Space can be Open-Ended

Understanding your position in relation to a space is from the teachings of Campbell (2006,) where she discusses the concept of space within a specific educational setting. What we can question is what do places and spaces mean to us? What can they teach us? Education and learning happen in spaces in a location some are deliberate, some are not. And providing a space, rather a place that has no walls or barriers can support that a course (like Learning from the Land) is about the other places that learning happens, outside of schools, colleges and universities. Therefore there is a possibility that education can be given in a non-traditional sense of space. This is where we think education happens and therefore we don’t think in detail about these formal, assumed educational spaces. Spaces doesn’t have to be about being in a closed off room but rather an open-ended space in both learning and growth. Like Kimmerer, her stories she shared with us about taking the kids out and learning in an open space allowed the students to think and problem solve in a more open-ended opportunity. Personally, I was able to conduct a learning seminar around a campfire recently. Confined walls were replaced with large maple trees, flower gardens, and birds singing their song proudly. This style of learning in a non-traditional space, in a circle formation (more indigenous based) provided an open conversation about their learning experiences, building from one another stories. Like the sweetgrass braid, students who build in conversations like this, in a more open-ended learning environment, create stronger emotional engagement for everyone.

In Cambell’s (2006) article, she offered suggestions on how to think and reflect in a place unconventional and outside the classroom walls. Age groups are not specified where I feel, you can incorporate this exercise into all different age groups. Essentially applying this paper to the course creates the supporting argument that you can find a new space where education is beyond the concept of a place. This is also supported by Embers (2013), written by Wagemese, which is about how the teachings of a space in nature can help us understand how we can utilize a natural space in order for us to achieve teaching. His indigenous teachings help us understand how the circle gathering can help foster intellectual, mental, physical, and emotional achievements (the four components that make up the indigenous medicine wheel). He concludes his book with this powerful statement, “[T]urn off the TV and your devices and talk to each other. Share stories. Be joined, transported, and transformed.” (Wagemese, 2013. p. 172). There are many moments I request my students to turn off their mobile devices to enjoy the moment, rather than taking a photo of the moment for future reference. One of my students in the fire ceremony asked if I would ever record the lesson. I said “no” because it was about the space we all created around the fire. It can be argued that a person can lose an appreciation for the present moment if they are looking through a lens. My reasoning I explained, was also in conjunction with ceremonial practices from the indigenous community where grand entries at pow wows are not to be filmed or recorded. One of my elders explained to me how it is a sign for showing respect to the elders, the fallen ones, and our ancestors (personal communication with Rosanne Irving) and to be in the moment. She agreed and appreciated the learning experience from the conversation.

 

Forest Schools

How are schools creating new spaces for students? Schools like Forest Schools have been popping up lately where they provide a space unlike traditional forms of education. Coles (2017) writes about learning from the land in his article, Forest Schools In Canada. He talks about this European concept that has been gaining traction over Canada now creating open-ended learning environments. Open-ended learning and spaces are created were, “[K]ids are encouraged, through interaction with nature, to learn and develop socially; to be physically active and emotionally fit; to develop self-confidence; to learn respect for their neighborhoods and environments; and to enjoy nature in safe and age-appropriate ways.” (Coles, 2017). By creating opportunities for learning in non-traditional ways of education, we can provide students with an alternative approach.

Learning from the land can be transformative for students at any age. The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada shared a promotional video on the benefits of Forest Schools. Children in Forest schools can play and be part of an experience that peaks their interests. Wearing their rubber boots and walking along the side of a creek, they explore in an open space more freely rather than sitting in a desk listening to a teacher explaining what the creek does on a chalkboard. In today’s society, kids are raised by the heaviest programmed and organize livelihood, which are run and organized by adults. This further supports Robinson’s argument where they are heavily influenced by programming, social media and other devices (Robinson, 2010). In Forest schools, the open ended structure can create a time and space where students can discover their own interests. The curriculum is more organically grown. With the changing of the seasons, students discover, find questions, and look for answers for feeling inquiry and lessons are supporting their curiosities. This is an opposite way of conducting the traditional curriculum where students are given the lesson first and then asked if they have questions. There are roughly 45 part-time and full-time programs in Canada, mostly in B.C. and Ontario (Child and Nature Alliance, 2017). Primarily indigenous programming have been learning off the land for thousands of years so they argue that this isn’t an uncommon way of learning. Students spend a majority of their time outdoors in all four seasons. After reporting their observations, experts say that we have become more of an indoor based culture with traditional forms of education. Teachers have seen improvements in social skills and cognitive ability and physical skills (Child and NatureAlliancee of Canada, http://childnature.ca/forest-school-canada/) and it further creates Campbell’s idea of space (Campbell, 2006). The Alliance have trained over 400 educators and project out deliver forest school teachings. Children come to life, happiness, social outcomes joy and problem solving skills.

 

Aesthetic Experience and Emotional Connections.

We have understood many areas of education and its relationship between this concept and the individual. Yet stepping out onto the land can be a powerful learning experience. The sights, the sounds, the smells of nature can all be immersed in a lesson. The touch of the dirt on the ground, to the sound of a bird chirping high up in an evergreen tree, all give way to the opportunity of a lesson guided by a facilitator. The facilitator may sit down with his/her group and share. How can this compare to a classroom setting? The problem addressed by Robinson is how our current students can’t focus on traditional means of an educational community. They are overstimulated with technology and uninterested in learning from an education system created in the industrial revolution (Robinson, 2010). How can the student learn if the education system is outdated? Learning from the land (like Forest Schools) can help create an emotional connection with an aesthetic experience. An individual comes to know and understand his/her identity and role within his/her community from these learning experiences. Therefore, there is a sense of emotional connection between the student and land itself. How can we provide these learning opportunities to learn from the land? If we look at examples outside of traditional education, we can see that nontraditional forms use land-based education as a way to teach the young mind. Robinson (2010) stated an important point about how the arts can create the aesthetic experience for a student, where they experience learning in the present moment. Aesthetic is defined as a means of appreciating mentally the beauty in ways of seeing, feeling, touching, and having an emotional connection with the experience1. In the present day where technology is amplified to a degree where we are overstimulated, the arts community can create a unique and alternative experience for a student where their attention is only the present moment. Technology from our cell phones (as one example) generate this matrix world of constant stimulation, whereby traditional forms of education lose the attention of the student quickly. How can we recreate the opportunity for growth? By using the land, we can create an experience, and incorporate stories, which form a depth of knowledge not found in traditional means of education anymore. Learning from the land like going on a nature walk or planting a garden, and anything that involves our human senses of physical touch with our mental capacity of imagination all can foster the aesthetic experience. Forest schools are creating an opportunity land-based learning, the students can put down their phone, step away from the standardized classroom and create an experience aesthetically pleasing to their learning needs. They can process the understanding of original ideas through seeing, feeling, touching, building, and learning, to experience something that will engage them.

One of the supporting resources was the first chapter from Louv’s book, Last Child In the Woods. The key points to raise a generation of nature stewards and nature lovers and for “Last Child” this means to have early contact with nature. This links directly to Campell’s sense of place and a natural space (Campbell, 2006). Forest Schools create that aesthetic natural experi- ence. In a sense, much of was shared was how we learn to become aware of places, and specifi- cally natural places (places that don’t obviously look controlled by a human, though they often are: second growth forests, gardens, upland farms, etc). Nature provides children with a connection to something much older than them, much older than time and older than their parents (Louv, 2005 p.7). Like Kimmerer stated nature is our eldest teacher so why not listen to them first? Nature provides an unbelievable perspective where, “[U]nlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” (Louv, 2005, p.9). Providing opportunities for learning from the land can reflect a students capacity to wonder. Even nature as a teacher, can create an opportunity whereby the land can offer amazing opportunities for self reflection and personal growth. Louv mentions how the land wonders, as we do in our minds, and therefore create an opportunity for growth in our own way by looking at the land which creates a reminder for us to explore. As I went out onto the land up in northern Ontario, I took this opportunity to learn Kimmerer’s perspective on the land being the teacher itself, what it gave me was a sense of self reflection as I stared at the water. I wandered along the dirt road and let my mind open up to the curiosity of all the sights and sounds around me. The wind brushes through my hair, and I respond to the call of the birds chirping high up in a poplar tree. The sun peaks through the branches giving off a drastic detail of shadow and light along the dirt road. So many teachable moments outside where I am able to let myself open up to the abundance of knowledge.

Another supporting article retrieved was about mental heath and the positive co-relationship between those who work in nature see a decrease in symptoms. Early May is known as “mental health awareness month” and this articles helps foster the connections of nature energy and students whereby learning from the land can help benefit those who struggle with anxiety, depression, etc. Spending time in nature fosters connections, not just with the Earth, but with other people too. Walking along urban trails and ex- ploring different hiking trails exposes you to people you might not otherwise meet and can help you make new friends. The article further suggested about how a study found that self esteem and positive moods significantly increased. In other readings, “[R]esearchers found that, in conjunction with an exercise regimen, the volunteers who were exposed to pleasant imagery of cities and rural areas had higher self-esteem than those who did not” (Unknown Author, 2018, www.tentree.com). Much like Tolle sug- gests in The Power of Now, “[R]esearch has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. They represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.” (Tolle, 1999, p. 25). By pairing this with land based education, we can see the correlation between student achievement and positive emotional and mental health changes.

With many examples and supporting materials which create the aesthetic experience with strong emotional connections and engagement, it’s no wonder we are seeing more Forrest schools popping up around Canada. Robinson’s problem that was addressed back in 2010 is get- ting more recognition and people are looking for the answers to help foster student growth. Land based education is creating traction. A positive solution moving forward into the future.

 

Creating the Now

One of the books I have been reading for pleasure is The Power of Now. Tolle’s best selling book for nearly two decades has transformed people into understanding what the present moment is and how we can start living in the present. It is a teachable resource to understand the concept of being in the moment. While it’s not used specifically for students (young students) this resource helped me understand that component while testing out Kimmerer’s experiences for myself up in Northern Ontario. Tolle’s argument demonstrates that if we were able to ask plant or animal form what time it was, their only response would be “the time is now” (Tolle, 1999, p. 34). We can see that neither plant or animal is focused on the past or future. It’s only content is the power of this moment. We can learn a lot by this observation and self reflect on this component of thought process. In conjunction with one of the problems Robinson had suggested, was that children are lost in the present moment. By an obscene amount of over stimulus, they are not able to become fully present sitting in a desk (Robinson, 2010). With their phones and other mo- bile devices, they are distracted by the never ending social media, advertising and other means of distractions making it difficult to focus on the mundane traditional style of teaching. I used Tolle’s argument with one of my adult learning classes. One of my students asked if she could take a photo of the lesson given. This concept helps support the argument where we shouldn’t recored our teachings around the fire, but to live in the moment and learn. By doing so we are more emotionally connected to the learning experience and all of our senses are engaged. The student respected my wishes and understand the power of the now. Many people are caught up in reaching for their phones to take the photo, post on social media, and while that maybe good for some occasions, a land based educational lesson is important to keep in the present moment whereby all your senses are fully engaged to received the most out of what is being offered.

Up in Northern Ontario is where I had the pleasure of travelling to Manitoulin Island in early spring of 2018. In developing this idea of becoming present, I was able to experience the intentions behind land teachings whereby I was able to turn off my mobile device and engage in an oppor- tunity of growth and self development as a student. I was in the “now”! Following this trip, I had the pleasure of speaking to one of my elders, Rosanne Irviing (personal communication) where she has helped me understand a component to the art of listening. Much like Kimmerer had spoken about this art of, “ [L]istening in wild places, we are audiences to conversations in a language not our own.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 48). Listening and using all of my senses, I am able to share a ceremonial experience in my own story for future teachings. By shutting off our phones, we can listen and observe this foreign language and to comprehend the dialogue between the birds in their habitat. The trees rustling in the wind creating a cause and effect teachable moment for students. Overseeing waters flow from the land and down into the lake below and create a moment of self reflection and discovery not unlike seen from a mathematical equation on the blackboard.

Self Discovery

As I take a walk amongst the trees I am centred by my own thoughts, my own feelings and the emotions that spark from them. This is a place I come to on a regular basis for healing and reflection. I have taken many moments thinking and processing my life amounts the tall pines that sway as the wind blows. Their song echoes and the birds chirp in harmony. I can depend on this place for strength along my path.

In Embers, Wagamese (2016) wrote about the concept of storytelling and self discovery. Storytelling, creating, and writing about your experiences creates a further in-depth awareness and understanding of the experience you are having in the moment. I took the opportunity to journey and write down words of my experience to discover more of the teachings that were presented to me by the land and what I inherently got out of the experience itself. Ultimately what comes from this is development as a human being. Learning through self discovery can further help individuals become aware of their own development in all aspects. From physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional, learning through scenery practice is another argument where creating an aesthetic learning experience can be beneficial to the individual. Creating and learning also enhance your sensory skills and like Coles suggested in his article, Sensory play is important for childhood brain development and helps children develop and make sense of their relationships to the world around them (Coles, 2017). Children allowed to explore freely, in ever-changing natural environments, are going to have to get creative with play and use their problem-solving skills to deal with weather, natural barriers, and other factors of the outdoors.

 

Conclusions

Overall, I have grown to learn about the significance of educational and learning from the land. Through a problem that was addressed in another course, I found this important to raise awareness on how we can benefit students of all age groups to think, grow, and learn from alternative approaches to education. Learning from the land can create an aesthetic learning opportunity for the students to become present in the moment and developing stronger connections with themselves. Self discovery is a significant aspect of child development where, I believe, the land can offer opportunities for students to do such a thing. The power of being present is an important aspect.

The path as taken me many miles across the world. I have trusted in the organisms of earthy teachings along my way. They are the only pieces of wisdom that has made sense as I take time to give gratitude to the land for it’s teaching. Like Kimmerer had shared in her book, it’s our greatest teacher, why not listen? One of the greatest teachings I have learned is the concept of listening to process and the land gives me an insatiable hunger to learn more as to practice the art of listening. I can think, reflect, and discover the connection I have with myself.

 

Personal Note:

My personal business is teaching people how to utilize earth energy for the basis of their learning along with their path. I teach people of all age groups how land energy can be beneficial for their growth and development. Since this course, I’ve had the opportunity to take my wisdom and share this with people this summer up in Algonquin Park where I have been asked to host retreats by Northern Edge Algonquin. Learning from the land is a powerful tool we can all use, regardless of age. By learning from our Indigenous Elders, course content, and the land, we can create many wonderful moments of self discovery and inner growth for our own path. This course helped me see this as an aspect of life. Thank you!

References

Beaver, J (2018) Living in Harmony with Sacred Law: Part 1. Sacred Law in Star Nations Maga zine, May 2018, Issue 60

Coles, T (2017) Forests Schools, In Canada, What Are They, and What Are the Benefits? Re trieved from:  https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/09/29/forest-schools-canada_a_23227782/

Tolle, E. (1999) The Power of Now. Namaste Publishing. Canada

Campbell, SueEllen “Layers of place” in Interdisciplinary studies in literature and environment: ISLE. 13(2), pp. 179-183 c. 2006 Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Louv, R (2005) Last Child In The Woods. Algonquin Books. Canada
Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and

the teaching of plants. Milkweed.
Wagamese, R. ( 2016) Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations. Douglas and MacIntyre. Canada.

Author Unknown, (2018) 10 ways spending time in nature can improve your mental health found on. Retrieved from: http://www.tentree.com

Author Unknown (2018) Forrest Schools in Canada. http://childnature.ca/forest-school-canada/ Supporting References
Burrows, S (2018) The Trees Have a Heartbeat. Retrieved: http://www.iflscience.com/
Lane, Brown, Bopp, Bopp, and Elders (1984) The Sacred Tree. Four Worlds International. Can.

Cajete, Gregory (1994) “We are all related” in Look to the mountain: An ecology of indigenous education. pp.165-186. Kivaki Press.


I offer tobacco in gratitude for the most important life element we have. Water!