I would like to try my hand at writing a blog for those of you who teach the biome curriculum. My intention in doing so is to share my ideas with you and to share your ideas, discoveries, and experiences with others who have brought the biomes into their classrooms. For the past five years, I have been traveling and giving workshops on the curriculum. I feel your enthusiasm and your need to network with other educators. By traveling and networking with others, I find new ideas to incorporate into my vision of a Montessori cultural curriculum rich in environmental education and integrated across the boundaries of isolated subject matter. I feel there is a potential grassroots movement towards a saner, more sustainable way of living in closer connection to the natural world and I want to be a part of that and a facilitator in connecting people who feel the same pull. As educators, we are all in a position to impress impressionable young minds with a different message than the one our modern culture is transmitting to us. Our culture would have us believe that we are a species above the laws of nature and entitled to unlimited use of the earth’s resources. Children live in such a state of disconnection with the natural world that they don’t even realize that it is nature that provides them with everything they need to exist. We think of nature as uncomfortable and even dangerous. And, yet, for thousands of years we, as a species, have lived in close connection to the natural world. The past two hundred years since the industrial revolution entails a very recent “experiment” in living behind glass in temperature-controlled environments with all of our food transported from remote soils to be processed and packaged for us to pick up at the grocery store. The media has further removed us from direct experience of any kind and isolated us in front of screens to live our lives virtually. In his book, Last Child in the Woods Richard Louv warns us that there are serious repercussions to this “experiment”. When I first started teaching 28 years ago, I didn’t see children with sensory integration issues or such problems with attention and concentration. Now it is prevalent along with physical problems such as asthma and obesity. Our children are calling for help. We don’t need to dwell on these tragic circumstances any longer than it takes to recognize the need to reclaim our connection to nature.
Nature heals. We have only to make the time and the space in our lives and in our schools to experience it, to allow it to provide us with what we need to live happy and healthy lives. As I have traveled around giving the workshop and sharing environmental education materials to be used in the classroom, I always encouraged guides to take the exploration outdoors but I couldn’t tell them how to do that. I only knew that it was a missing piece to what I had to offer and that indigenous cultures were the model to observe. About a year ago, I spent a weekend in the woods with a group of people to be initiated into an art called “Coyote Mentoring”. Evan McGown had written a book with a man named Jon Young called Coyote Guide to Connecting with Nature. Young is an anthropologist who studied the process of how native children develop their connection to nature through mentoring by elders. I instantly recognized this approach as the missing piece I had been looking for. I enlisted Evan to lead our lower elementary class into the wild one day each week. Since then, I have become very involved in getting children outdoors to have their biological button pushed, their senses integrated, and their minds and spirits awakened in awe of nature. This year, we are bringing our primary classes into the forest and out on the field. I am discovering, firsthand, how to integrate these outdoor experiences with the biomes curriculum to make it even more experiential for children. I would very much like to share this journey with you and all of the amazing benefits that I observe. I also hope that you will send me your stories and experiences so that I can share them with our biome community. We have some very important work to do and we need to stay connected. Remember that nothing and no one exists in isolation and that we are all connected. Sincerely, Sharon Duncan