Sharing Nature - Something To Teach Us All

Sharing Nature - Something To Teach Us All

Sharing nature – something that seems so innocuous, yet so important for making others see that beauty is right before us. As an adult sharing with children, it is a joint venture, not to impart, but to have an experience together. With adults, sharing is an essential ingredient, not so much to show how much one knows, but to reaffirm how nature can bring people together.

Is sharing nature something that is merely biology? No, it is much more! It is interactional, it is interpersonal, it is communicational, it is observing, listening, smelling, touching, feeling. When did we ever believe that sharing nature was something where one would demonstrate their prowess at knowing the names of things, like it was a badge of intellectual superiority?

To me, sharing nature has always been about providing a time and place, a mutual experience, an affirmation of how colors, and sounds, so feelings can be experienced in such a rich conglomeration of interdependence. There is this inter-relational community, that is right before us, and it beckons us to reach out not only to the natural world, but also to one another. It always makes me think about how ecologically different these things I am experiencing are, and yet they work together. Then it suggests to me, why can we not respect this in our human species and try to respect how different we may be, and learn from one another. More importantly, how can we learn to interact with one another, not as superiors, but in a mutually respectful way?

The title for our blog at NAAEE is seemingly a very harmless set of words one might think is beyond disrespect and scorn. Or is it?

Environmental Education has gone through many iterations over time. Nature Study, Conservation Education, and we arrived where we are today, with many themes as a part of our sphere. Sharing nature, can be thought of as a “sage on the stage” telling about nature, “a guide on the side” gently taking persons through an outdoor experience, “a focused,” disciplinary event that should have measureable outcomes, a “vicarious” set of serendipitous events, and on and on we might go. In spite of my beginning three paragraphs, there can be disagreement about what I have said and people often ask, what constitutes environmental education in “sharing nature?” Upon first blush one might think “sharing nature” is something we might all agree upon.

As environmental education has found, what it is, how it is implemented, how it is experienced, and what are the expectations, brings in all kinds of beliefs and thoughts. That adds to the beauty and terrible burden the field has whenever we look at the field as a whole and of its parts. What is it, why is it there, why is it worth studying, who benefits, is there a right time, should we have objectives, should we measure outcomes? These are all questions that propitiously or not come from other fields that have attached themselves to us. If we cannot academically justify its existence, then does it have value?

We have been squeezed into thinking certain things. For instance we must have verifiable objectives, even Robert Mager’s behavioral objectives, a formal instructional plan with all of the elements of a “good lesson plan,” evaluation that has formative and summative components, has potential beyond chance it will extend over time to each person, we must have testing or for those slightly more sophisticated, has performance and outcomes-based with longitudinal results, then environmental education is worthy.

Maybe we have been slightly coerced to act and sound like all educational ventures, because we have regressed to new forms of being and for finding reputability. In some cases we have been asked to provide data and to provide statistical outcomes to allow us to seek support and funding; and you know where that has taken us. But I digress.

As we look through the dark tunnel of existence, how do we travel to the light? It is no secret Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle by Richard Louv have given “Sharing Nature” and environmental education, a whole new set of reasons to exist. The research provides us with a clear indication that being outdoors in nature is an essential for all humans. The data and its interpretation has said to us, we must find more ways to entice people to visit the outside, to experience nature, and for us, to share nature.

What does this mean to those of us who believe sharing nature is important? Mr. Brady Link, former superintendent in West Kentucky, shared this story with me some time ago and it made me think about our field and sharing nature.

“I used to teach biology,” he told me. “We would take our high school classes to The Land Between the Lakes,” at that time run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, now the US Forest Service. “We provided our freshman a residential, outdoor experience over several days,” he said. “It was something that was hard work, but was well worth the investment of time.” Link said: “Recently I ran into a former student of mine, and she told me how much she remembered my biology class, and our environmental education experience.” Being inquisitive Link asked: “What do you remember most about that time you spent there with our class?” The student replied: “Mr. Link, I just remember how good it was, but I cannot tell you why. It was just a good experience.”

Mr. Link told me this story with some regret because his student could not come up with superlatives that were specific. Then he reflected: “ I suppose it had value that she remembered it and that should be enough.” 

Sharing nature with others is a foundational experience, an essential one for providing a sense of connection, not only to the natural world, but also to one another. As environmental educators try to do things to be accepted, to seek funding, we try to be like other fields, and oft times we miss the very value we bring to young and old alike. We have a niche that is essential to making sense out of a world that is specialized and disconnected.

Sharing nature is a beginning point that we know through the eyes of young people, the sounds we hear from those we take outdoors, the sense we get, that like Mr. Link’s Biology student, “…..I remember how good it was, but I cannot tell you why.” As Rachel Carson put it in The Sense of Wonder, “It is not half so important to know as to feel.”

Sharing nature today is more important than ever to bring us a sense of how interrelated we are to one another. The need for us to make connections to the natural world and to each other seems a fitting thing in these times because it is good for us, because it makes us think outside of ourselves, and it makes us stop and feel and ponder.

By sharing nature we will provide an opportunity for others to wonder about how interconnected and interdependent we are to all living things and to each other.


(Photo Thanks to KAEE and Deb Spillman)