‘Nature teaches each of us what we need’
How does contact with nature benefit children?
In my experience, contact with nature is a basic need like breathing, drinking and eating – if we’re permanently cut off from it, it feels like malnutrition. The same happens to children and adolescents who have a thirst for experiencing nature. So if 25 children have carved their own spoon out of wood, they sense that they can bring something about themselves into the activity and help shape their environment. It is precisely these experiences with natural materials or nature in general that empower the children in their thoughts and actions. In lessons in enclosed classrooms they would be presented with content and exercises and have to reproduce them, so they would have little scope for personal growth and self-awareness, whereas outside the classroom, they can experience the lesson’s contents with their senses and apply what they learn straight away. They are directly involved, which is why I go outside with the students as often as possible. And it means they are able to concentrate for much longer, too.
Did you have a lot of contact with nature as a child?
I grew up very close to nature as a child. My parents were scout leaders, which is why I went outside with them a lot and was able to establish a good relationship with nature from an early age. That was the basis of many positive, early childhood memories. I learned to be independent and acquired practical skills, such as tying knots, carving wood, building a fire, cooking and looking after myself. Although you become more independent, nature connects you to other people. You grow as a collective and treat each other more caringly.
What did you do before you joined Phorms?
Originally I wanted to be a vet, but I didn’t want to learn all those Latin names by heart, so I eventually decided to study biology, which I graduated in despite all the Latin. After that, I had very little contact with nature and worked in marketing and media, but somehow or other, around this time, I had the feeling that something was missing, although I couldn’t put my finger on it.
So how did you then get into education?
I offered to do gardening with the children in the nursery of my son, who was four at the time, and explain insects to them and carry out small experiments. That was a wake-up call for me, because the children showed me that there is so much to discover if we just look up from the ground. I quickly noticed that children really soak up contact with nature and can concentrate on the subject and keep going for several hours. They are so inquisitive and thirsty for knowledge. But it wasn’t just the children who were enthusiastic and had fun; I noticed in myself that I had a gift, that this was my talent! In 2005, I became self-employed and founded ‘LABORIS … macht neugierig!’ (LABORIS ... makes you inquisitive) to offer nature experience and experimental courses for nurseries and schools. Via LABORIS and on the recommendation of a former nursery child, I came to Phorms in 2011 for a project. I finally became a teacher through lateral entry in the 2013/14 school year.
What’s your advice to teachers who want to foster contact with nature in their group or class?
Topics that are handled in a practical way are simply easier to remember. And what the children have learned should be linked to positive emotions, and mistakes should also be praised. Teaching is often about deficiencies these days and pointing out what’s missing instead of what kids already have or can do. That’s why I recommend providing much more positive support in order to motivate children and adolescents and encourage them to be even more inquisitive.
What is that like in practice?
I usually answer a question with a counter question so that they recognise the connections for themselves, and I give plenty of compliments. It should be seen from a holistic perspective, so that learning is not the goal but is something that just happens by the by. It’s much easier to acquire knowledge and skills if you do something useful and are enthusiastic about it.
Boris Braun, incorporates experiences of nature in his day-to-day lessons and gives tips to teachers
Book tips: Wilderness awareness
Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature
Jon Young, Ellen Haas, Evan McGown
Coyote teaching is the art of ‘invisible school’, as used by mentors in primitive peoples. It’s about using various methods and routines to pique the curiosity of both children and adults, learning with eagerness and joy, testing new solutions and using our own minds to overcome challenges. Standard work on wilderness awareness with a great introduction and a comprehensive summary of methods.
Using detailed descriptions and sketches, questions and anecdotes, and structured according to the natural environment (fields, the edge of woods, deciduous forests, ponds, etc.), this at first glance nondescript natural history walking book from the 1950s entices readers to watch closely and immerse themselves in the natural environment. The additional seasonal walking books are particularly suitable for walks because they are compact enough to fit in any backpack and are full of specific details about natural history and natural phenomena.
Sharing nature with children
This book contains instructions on the fundamentals for teaching positive interaction with nature. With numerous practical instructions and group dynamic methods, Cornell shows how to explain ecological connections to children, in the process presenting his pedagogy of living silence, direct experience and dialogue with self and nature. His ‘Flow Learning’ teaching strategy has been a classic in the field of nature and experiential education since his work first appeared in 1979.