four young children holding magnifying glasses outside in green space

Mastering Pedagogy in Environmental Education: What Happens After Lifting the Rock, Finding the Worm, and Putting It Back?

written by Suzanne Major, PhD, Anthropology of Early Childhood Education

The most difficult challenge for educators or teachers is mastering pedagogy to structure their work while preserving a child-centered approach to environmental education. A child-centered approach is most efficient, and it implies following the children’s whims to cultivate pleasure which will bring curiosity, which in turn will sustain interest and attention. The NAAEE’s Guidelines for Excellence in Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs is a must read.

Literacy and alphabetization have been the focus of all efforts in education in the modern world or as some might say in the minority world. Catalysed by science it “ignore(s) or silence(s) majority world views of the childʺ[1] and its education. Environmental education in the majority world is often capital while alphabetization takes a back seat. Naturalism (“as there is but one system of reality ̶̶ nature”[2]), ecology (“as a science of the interrelations between living organisms and their environment, including both the physical and biotic environments and emphasizing interspecies as well as intraspecies relations”[3]), as well as holistic approaches to education, all operate in the majority world. Their bodies of knowledge defining the “concrete mind”[4] are still available but are being eroded by the globalisation of the neoliberal culture. While this is going on, “opsistiation”[5] or education with fast-moving images and sounds is imposing itself in the postmodern world relinquishing the text and book culture to the twentieth century. What are educators and teachers to make of all this? How can this be clearly sorted out?

This year with my blogs for the NAAEE, I will try and make practical sense of the places held by the concrete mind, by literacy/alphabetization and by opsistiation in education. I will try and demonstrate that all three perspectives lock into each other to form a complete circular body of knowledge that can be used for environmental education. I will also try to underline a pedagogical approach where educational objectives, strategies, and activities as well as skills to encourage in young children can be placed like pieces of a puzzle into the interlocking picture of our three bodies of knowledge. Educators and teachers will be able to collect the pieces offered by the children to structure their pedagogical understanding. In turn, this will enable them to propose enriched experiences to children and pursue education which includes the environment as one of three parts. Eight blogs will be proposed. They will analyse principles, processes, educational objectives, and strategies underlining the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization and opsistiation. Anecdotal events will be provided by young children to illustrate the analyses.

Three bodies of knowledge: the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization and opsistiation. Let us define them. The concrete mind or “thinking concretelyʺ[6], our first body of knowledge, is a concept discussed by Marcel Jousse many years ago. It is the mind that thinks with the whole body and not just with the intellect. It considers all sorts of information like the ones proposed by the senses but also the ones produced by feelings and impressions, by intuition and imagination and by visions and dreams. The concrete mind uses every source of information available through its biological self and places itself in the environment, the ecosystems, the biosphere, and the cosmos. It does not think intellectually but concretely. Remember an event in your life that was very intense like losing your child in a shopping centre or encountering a bear on a walking path in the woods both of which I have experienced. In those moments, you get the impression you cannot think anymore. You are hearing differently, and your visual perception is altered. Your heart rate goes up and you become hyper alert. Your whole body seems to operate in a different register than the intellect. Your complete being is operative. Of course, emergency situations are exceptional but the capabilities they highlight can be experienced in normal everyday life. Think of the hunter, the fisherman or the wildlife photographer. They practice their concrete mind by using all their senses, by relying on their instincts and by accessing all types of knowledge. Some of us get the chance to experience thinking concretely in the modern world but most likely, our lives are spent thinking with our intellect because of the way we live and the environment we spend our time in. Some of us have completely forgotten how to think concretely.

Literacy and alphabetization, our second body of knowledge, have been uplifted as the most important, if not only, educational goals in the modern world. There are many reasons for this. In part, they give access to academic training, social positioning, and wealth but they also give access to knowledge and capabilities that have the potential to be extremely creative and productive. Literacy comprises pre-mathematical, pre-reading and pre-writing skills for young children. Alphabetization, of course, means learning to read, write and count but it also means being able to read a text while keeping in memory the information it contains to the end of the reading. It also means being able to read, understand and apply instructions. Marcel Jousse highlights that alphabetization leads to abstract thinking using syllogisms (all men are human; all humans are mortal; therefore, all men are mortal), algebra (using symbols to represent things) and algorithms (steps to solve a problem) as well as logical processes like deduction, induction, and inference. Yvan Illich[7] and Richard Louv[8] specify that alphabetization makes imagination, conceptualization, and creation possible. These intellectual capabilities have allowed “Progress” to take giant leaps in the modern world and have made available a fabulous array of products in all spheres of human activities. In the space of two centuries, these intellectual capabilities have led to the discreditation of the capabilities of the concrete mind which has crippled humans. Marcel Jousse[9] and Yvan Illich[10] write that the human condition of being rooted into the biosphere has been ignored and that humans in the modern world cannot taste the poison in the water, smell the chemicals in the air, see the changing colours, hear nature, or feel danger. Education in the modern world has been ignoring the rapport humans have to the environment, the ecosystems, the biosphere, and the cosmos. It has deprived modern culture of a whole body of knowledge. But perhaps this was temporary… Perhaps developing intellectual capabilities was all time and energy consuming for a few generations and now, perhaps a new era is dawning.

Let consider now the phenomena of opsistiation in postmodern education meaning education with fast-moving images and sounds using screens. This is our third body of knowledge. Young adults these days cannot read the time on a traditional clock, cannot use cursive writing, and rarely use pens or crayons. Many prefer to retrieve information from videos on the Internet instead of reading books and articles. They literally have access to all the information available to humans with the simple motion of a click. They are postmodern thinkers using computers to explore the world that lies ahead of them and to get a hold of their emerging mind set. They are discovering the rhythms, speeds and directions bodies of knowledge can take. They are shedding the dialogic quality ̶ black and white, tall, and short, male, and female, etc. ̶ and the linear path of cause and effect, through which information has been organized. Their minds are being altered going from a linear, dialogic, and hierarchical processes to multidimensional, creative, and stratified ones, giving them access to abilities that were unavailable before. They are practicing “quantum thinking”[11] letting their minds go in all directions. “They are testing a brand-new vehicle of consciousness. They are twenty-first-century explorers with increased memory capabilities, layered information, multiplied perspectives, catalysed analysis of what is significant, and endless creativity. They are mass consumers of ideas, sensations, and experiences, instead of things.”[12] And they are in the process of linking the three bodies of knowledge: the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization, and opsistiation…

My next blogs will analyze the principles, the processes, and strategies in each body of knowledge of the concrete mind, literacy/alphabetization and opsistiation. Educator and teachers will be able to pick up every gesture, desire and interest the children offer every day like so many pieces of a puzzle and place them in their right pedagogical place. They will be able to map out children’s agencies and activities and foresee the bigger picture of possible experiences in education including environmental education for young children.


If you liked this blog, please let me know. If you have comments please reach out to me at or leave a comment under this post.

SM/sm February 22, 2021, blog 9


[1] MacNaughton, G. (2005: 23). Doing Foucault I Early Childhood Studies. Applying Poststructural Ideas, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

[2] Reiners, W.A. & Lockwood, J.A. (2010: 11). Philosophical Foundations for the Practices of Ecology, Cambridge.

[3] Idem (2010: 13).

[4] Jousse, M. (1974 : 82). L’anthropologie du geste, Gallimard, 395 pages.

[5] Major, S. (2014: 127). Mamès, profèsorn oun kinder likth. Éducation en petite enfance en CPE. Le cas des femmes hassidiques Belz en services de garde en milieu familial accrédités, Doctorate dissertation, Anthropology, Université de Montréal.

[6] Jousse, M. (1974 : 82). L’anthropologie du geste, Gallimard, 395 pages.

[7] Illich, Y. (2004: 191). La perte des sens, Fayard, 360 pages.

[8] Louv, R. (2008: 15). Last Child in the Wood, Saving our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder, Algonquin Paperbacks, 390 pages.

[9] Jousse, M. (1974 : 82). L’anthropologie du geste, Gallimard, 395 pages.

[10] Illich, Y. (2004: 191). La perte des sens, Fayard, 360 pages.

[11] Busemeyer, J. R. & Bruza, P. D. (2012: xii). Quantum Models of Cognition and Decision, Cambridge, 407 pages.

[12] Major, S. (2019: 68-69). Light Bearing Children. Early Childhood Education and Complexification, (self-published), 156 pages.



This is such a great read. It's really interesting although it does worry me that we'd be so far removed from our ecosystem that we wouldn't be able to taste poison in our water or feel danger! Would a more holistic education revive those instincts?

Thank you Olivia for responding. I believe those instincts are programmed deep within us as we can still smell the snow coming in late fall, feel the barometric pressure when a storm is preparing and see the calming effect the sea can offer. Holistic education is a real solution to connecting with the biosphere and learning about our real human nature. First Nations across the world can show the way in redefining our human ambitions. Thanks again for reaching out to me.