Tags: ecopedagogy, health and physical education, outdoor education
In the words of the renowned philosopher Henry David Thoreau: We need the tonic of wilderness. And yet, in the 21st Century, we find our children increasingly without this ‘tonic’, or what Richard Louv (2011) calls ‘Vitamin N,’ for Nature. All available evidence suggests that young Australians are becoming less likely to engage in free play in outdoor environments (Maller & Townsend, 2006).
In part, the isolation can be attributed to the screen-ager generation and their choice of indoor hobbies, tethered to screens and electrical outlets (for instance social media, computer games, Wii, Nintendo, or television). Given this situation, outdoor educators agree that contemporary students are in dire need of a dose of nature if they are to grow up healthy. In this same vein, David Orr writes poignantly: “The message is urgent: unplug, boot it down, get off-line, get outdoors, breathe again, become real in the real world”.
Just last month, the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, called on the Department of Education and Communities to increase physical activity in NSW government primary schools, who aren’t even providing the minimum laid out in the existing curriculum guidelines, stating that:
Around 30 per cent of government primary schools are not providing the required two hours of physical education and sport per week. (Achterstraat, 2012, p. 11)
Researchers have argued that young people need to actively and repeatedly engage with the natural world in order to mature (Kahn & Kellert, 2002; Kellert, 2005; Lester & Maudsley, 2007; Louv, 2008). The relationship of the outdoors to growth and education has been widely acknowledged for centuries. For instance, the German term ‘kindergarten’ means literally, ‘children in the garden,’ clearly indicating the importance of outdoor activity.
Disconcertingly, on the cusp of educational reform in Australia with the implementation of a National Curriculum, we find that the Australian Curriculum Reporting Authority (ACARA) has omitted reference to the outdoors from the draft Health and Physical Education curriculum. The oversight neglects not only traditions of using natural environments for education, but also best practices internationally and emerging research on the dangers of Vitamin N deficiency.
Benefits of Human-Nature Connection
Over the past two to three decades, researchers have recognized the importance of human-nature connection as a determinant of health and wellbeing (see, for example, Kellert & Wilson, 1993; Orr, 2004; Stone, 2009). In contrast to the Australian case, Scandinavian schools, acknowledging the importance of outdoor activity for healthy development, immerse children in nature. Based on eco-pedagogical principles, school children spend approximately three hours each school day outside – rain, hail, snow or shine – in all four seasons. In spite of a climate that would seem to discourage outdoor activities, educators argue that there is no excuse for children staying indoors; one educator told me during a recent visit that their mantra is, ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’
This begs the question, why does our 21st Century Australian school curriculum have a growing aversion to taking kids outdoors, especially when we have a mild climate and an endless landscape of possibilities? Louv (2011) argues that children could do with a healthy dose of Vitamin N in our curriculum, especially as their leisure activity is increasingly indoors. In the face of the growing need, a child in the outdoors is an endangered species in contemporary schooling (see Gray, Martin & Boyle, 2012).
The result is that some children are becoming outdoor illiterate. Due to the inordinate time spent indoors on level floor surfaces, for example, outdoor educators are finding that Australian children cannot walk confidently and skillfully in outdoor environs; they are unfamiliar with uneven ground, crossing rivers or negotiating steep hilly terrain. Quite clearly, our modern child is not ‘nature smart’ and we need to redress this imbalance (Stone, 2009).
Nature and Well-being
The therapeutic role of nature has been documented as far back as classical Chinese and Greek civilizations (Townsend & Weerasuriya, 2010). Cultures around the world have an intuitive sense that natural environments possess restorative power; we know that outdoor settings ameliorate stress, improve mood, enhance coping ability and assist in combating depression (Nielsen & Hansen, 2007). Ironically, relaxation tapes provide artificial analogues of bird song, babbling streams, or waves crashing on the sand because we insulate ourselves from precisely these sensations. This effect of nature has been linked to biophilia, a term coined by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson (1984) to describe an innate love of nature and an affiliation to all living things shaped by our species’ evolutionary heritage (Sacks, 2009).
Recently, in Victoria we have seen the advent of ‘Feel Blue: Touch Green,’ an innovative mental health program using green spaces to address depression and mental illness (Townsend, 2006). This novel program is an outgrowth of studies which reveal separation from nature is implicated in declining physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing.
Australia’s 21st century school curriculum needs to produce a generation of students with greater, not less, environmental awareness. One way this can be accomplished is if we promote access to outdoor environments and develop an affinity with nature. Now more than ever, educators should be ensuring that children get their recommended daily allowance of vitamin N.
References: Achterstraat, P. (2012). NSW Auditor-General’s Report Physical activity in government primary schools. Department of Education and Communities. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2012). The Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (HPE) See http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum/hpe.html Gray, T., Martin, P. & Boyle, I. (2012). Outdoor Education and the Australian National Curriculum. Professional Educator Vol 11( 4) pp 16-18. Kahn, P. H. & Kellert, S. R. (2002). Children and Nature: Psychological, sociocultural and evolutionary investigations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kellert, S.R. (2005). Building for Life: Designing and understanding the human- nature connection. Washington: Island Press. Kellert, S.R. & Wilson, E.O. (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington: Island Press. Lester, S. & Maudsley, M. (2007). Play, Naturally: A Review of Children’s Natural Play. London: Play England. Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Louv, R. (2011). The Nature Principle: Human restoration and the end of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Maller, C. J. and Townsend, M. (2006). Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing and Hands- on Contact with Nature: Perceptions of Principals and Teachers. International Journal of Learning 12(4): 359-372. Nielson, T.S. & Hansen, K.B. (2007). Do green areas affect health? Results from a Danish survey on the use of green areas and health indicators. Health and Place, 13(4), 395-413. Orr, D.W. (2004). Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. Sacks, O. (2009). Forward in L. Campbell & A. Wiesen (eds), Restorative Commons: Creating health and wellbeing through urban landscapes. USDA Forest Service, PA, pp 1-3. Stone, M. (2009). Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability. Centre for Ecoliteracy, Watershed Media Berkeley, CA. Townsend, M. (2006). Feel Blue? Touch Green! Participation in forest/woodland management as a treatment for depression, Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 5: 111-120. Townsend, M. & Weerasuriya, R. (2010). Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature. Deakin University.
Tonia Gray was recently appointed Associate Professor of Education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her research interests include: Ecopedagogy, human-nature relationships; reflection and experiential learning in a variety of educational settings; risk taking; PDHPE; and facilitation and leadership styles in adventure education. In the past twenty years Dr Gray has attracted National teaching awards, several research grants, published monographs; written approximately 20 book chapters and 40 refereed publications. She will be presenting material relating to this post at the Nature Education symposium on August 9th 2012 at Taronga Park Zoo. Click here for the link to the symposium web site: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/edresources/NatureEdEvent.htm
Tags: aboriginal education, being a research student, indigenous education, literacy education, teacher researchers
1 comment so far
from Lawrence Kenny
“Dis one crying get football” (6 year old Central Western Desert child).
At first glance this description of a child upset because their football has been kicked into a creek on a family outing may appear clumsy and unsophisticated for a six year old speaker. However, for this very remote Aboriginal child this sentence is one of many milestones in their journey to becoming a competent and meaningful speaker of English. It is one of a number of major linguistic steps in their journey from being immersed and fluent in their own homeland Aboriginal language, to becoming a bilingual or multilingual speaker that includes English.
It is important to map the linguistic journey of these very remote Aboriginal English as Foreign Language (EFL) speakers as they are repeatedly identified and reported as having the poorest educational results of all Australian school children, yet they begin their Western education journey arriving at school being competent speakers of a very complex language system.
For many early childhood educators it is widely accepted that language is the key factor for all higher level cognitive functions and that language development and comprehension does affect the development of later literacy skills. As an early childhood educator in a very remote Aboriginal context for more than 7 years I have had the privilege of being immersed within a cultural and linguistic context unique within the wider Australian social milieu. During these 7 years I was involved for a year with the Indigenous Language Speaking Student (ILSS) program funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government. A major part of the ILSS program is the reporting and assessment of the English oral language abilities of 6 year old very remote Aboriginal children enrolled in the ILSS program.
During my year within this program it became apparent that there was no systematic or culturally appropriate method for the collection of English oral language data and, more disconcertingly, that no English oral language profile existed for these EFL learners. When educators and education systems within this unique educational context can understand and identify the development patterns and milestones in English oral language for these EFL learners, the better able all involved can cater for and to the education of these unique Australian EFL learners.
It is important that education providers and curriculum developers in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia recognise that the education and linguistic contexts of very remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia are extremely distinct from non remote Aboriginal and non Aboriginal communities. This distinction is important as it recognises that very remote Aboriginal children are English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners as opposed to English as Second Language (ESL) learners. The term EFL is distinct from ESL as EFL learners are not immersed within the broader social milieu of the language being learnt, whilst ESL learners are surrounded by the social and cultural elements of the language being learned.
Unfortunately this recognition is not apparent with the consistent application of mainstream English as first language and ESL developmental profiles in the very remote Aboriginal context. The application of these developmental models or profiles creates a language disparity and a deficit model for the assessment of these unique learners. This leads to a dislocation or a content/context divide that does not recognise the appearance and consolidation of emergent developmental behaviours and indicators for oral SAE that are common to very remote Aboriginal school children in their first few years of formal Western schooling.
The application of these developmental profiles is problematic as they are undertaken in mainstream urban and/or rural communities where SAE is the taken for granted first language, and they do not include many of the emergent developmental behaviours and indicators that are the foundations of more advanced SAE speech.
As the Australian education landscape undergoes a dramatic shift towards a National curriculum framework, a part of this new direction in the Northern Territory is the introduction of the Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9 (NT DET, 2010) [now called by NT DET the Diagnostic for Transition to Year 2]. The language profile within this document identifies six areas in the development of SAE oracy and although comprehensive, this developmental profile clearly reflects mainstream education developmental profiles and does not encompass any early and emergent language behaviours or indicators. These early emergent language indicators are what many very remote Aboriginal students display in their first few years of school, and this is the content /context divide for these English as a Foreign Language learners.
The T-9 Diagnostic Net provides an incomplete view of the developmental process as it begins with a description of learners that have mastered the emergent SAE oral behaviours and indicators. For example, the Transition speaking and listening profile describes students as speaking in sentences of four to five words and that they are able to join these short sentences using the words and, or, but, and because. This is the ‘expectation’ for these students by the end of their Transition year, which is the first year of school contact for many of these very remote Aboriginal children who are at least five years old but no more than six years old (NT DET, 2010, pp.30-31).
After their first year in Transition children move into first grade or year one and are now in their second year of schooling. Table 1.1 outlines the expected “grammatical markers” and “little words” (NT DET, 2010, p.30) that students must be able to use by the end of this year.
|Table 1.1 Grammatical markers and little words|
|Regular past tense||she walked|
|Irregular past tense||broke, fell|
|3rd person present tense regular||he works…|
|3rd person present tense irregular||she does|
|Little words||a, the, is, am, are|
NT DET (2010) Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9. The Continua. Oral Language Development in the Curriculum. Speaking and Listening (p.30).
The Diagnostic Net T-9 Continua (2010) does not cover emergent oral development as it begins with Transition students being able to speak and link four to five word sentences together by the end of their first year of school contact. The Diagnostic net then sees students progress to year one or first grade and depicts students using grammatical markers for tense and contractions in their speech by the end of this year of schooling.
The anticipated developmental progression over the first two years of school envisions these very remote students acquiring the previously discussed oral SAE abilities, yet does not acknowledge that beginning learners of a second language need time for exposure and consolidation in the learning process that may begin with an extended silent period before moving through holophrases and into the stages of telegraphic speech in their use of SAE (Ellis, 2009).
To conclude, very remote Aboriginal children in the NT arrive at school with little or no experience with English and the application of mainstream and ESL developmental models in the very remote Aboriginal context fails to recognise that developmental profiles must complement learners to be useful documents for teachers.
References: Ellis. R. (2009). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. (2nd Ed). Oxford. Oxford University Press. NT DET. (2010). Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9. Retrieved on the 29th September from http://www.det.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/13969/DiagnosticNetT9.pdf
Lawrence Kenny has two degrees from the University of Western Sydney, graduating in 1998 with a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood), and with a Bachelor of Education [Honours 1st class] in 2000. Lawrence is currently enrolled in the School of Education’s PhD program and is conducting research on the development of Standard Australian English in the early school years in four very remote Aboriginal communities in the Central Western Desert region of the Northern Territory. Lawrence is an employee of the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training and has worked as a teacher and teaching principal in this context for more than 7 years.