How learning about nature in nature creates meaning and joy in our lives.

Asher Cloran

Asher Cloran

Asher Cloran works with science, interactive learning, and human development to educate parents and teachers on Nature connection and how to integrate Nature connection into family life and classrooms.

When one looks at the dirt beneath our feet, it seems a most mysterious process to imagine, that this apparently mundane “dirty” substance can literally become the beautiful plants and dynamic animals and humans that walk the earth.

It doesn’t have to be so mysterious, because truly there are fundamental processes that govern this sequence from dirt into plants. Culturally, for whatever reasons, we have not made it a priority to know this process deeply or at all. In the sciences, all throughout school, soil processes are little mentioned. We learn some chemistry through the periodic table and some biology, mostly through paper handouts about “the cell” biology is “understood”. Unless we choose the agricultural studies subject, the mystery of soils will likely evade our education.

We teach biology, chemistry, physics, geology and agriculture as separate subjects, yet they are all intrinsically connected. The disconnected subjects of science taught in the mainstream do little to inspire any practically applied knowledge in the learner. Yet, in the seemingly simple act of growing a plant in soil, the principles and realities of chemistry, biology, physics and more coalesce together to create and perpetuate all of life on Earth.

We can teach the foundational aspects of science through pragmatic measures, like growing food. Yet the mainstream education system seems to have divided all the aspects of the whole. In nature, one cannot observe chemistry, outside of an organic context. It is only in a lab that where we can isolate certain chemical compounds into pure forms and observe their interactions where the parameters of the interactions have been controlled to achieve accuracy of experiments.

In nature, we find sulphur, paired with carbon, silica, bound in a crystalline matrix of minerals, that will have certain sulphur loving microbes living on these compounds. Certain other microbes still will be feeding on these microbes. An entire ecosystem will surround one element of existence. We see biology, living upon chemistry, influenced by physics, within an environment that makes sense of the context for these dynamic relationships.

In a lab, we see purified elemental forms, mixed in specific ratios, weighed out by machines, sterilised of lifeforms. Any variance in the environment is mitigated against, to control the parameters of how we conduct our experiments. Somehow, we have taken that lab mindset, where everything is separated, reduced, and controlled – and applied it to the way we teach our science. Labs are not bad, in fact, they are genius! Yet, fundamentally it is a place where we take nature, to break it down into components, to study its aspects, and modern science can have the tendency to become focussed on the aspects, at the cost of understanding the whole system – the systems of living, working nature. It can also be known, that once something is separated, it no longer functions as it did within the whole. Just like a trumpet sounds very different played alone, than when played in an orchestra.

When the natural linking between the elements is removed, along with it goes the interconnected story of nature. On the side of a volcano, we can see why certain chemistry dominates. We can see the movement of the tectonic plates creating the upswelling of the lithosphere from underground has impacted the soil, rocks, biology and environment around the volcano. From this we can see why certain biology in that area will be found thriving, whilst other life forms will not thrive.

We can see the interpenetrating factors in real time and within a history, through observing these elements in symphony within their context. This makes sense to our ancient and natural brain, designed to observe patterns in nature.

Observing patterns , is deeply connected to our sense of survival and fulfillment. Without seeing the flow of the seasons or at which points in the year a plant fruits or what signs may indicate a water source in an environment or any other number of natural patterns – we may perish. This is why human beings love to learn, and naturally feel elevated from the learning process –in seeing patterns, it means we are becoming smarter, which means us and our loved ones are going to be surviving and thriving for longer.

Therefore nature is not only our favourite home throughout history, but our favourite laboratory, and classroom. The richness of context and interpenetrating elements, tell a story that is endless and complex. Stories and context create meaning and meaning is what helps us to grow and thrive. For these same reasons, when we take aspects of science and we disconnect them from other aspects of nature, we lose so much context and therefore so much meaning.

This is a large part of why so much of our education system fails to engage students in deep and lifelong learning of the natural sciences and of nature. Our culture, our children and ourselves all grasp for meaning in our lives. With meaning comes satisfaction, happiness and awe. All of those things are important in the mental health and physical wellbeing of any human. We can begin to bring meaning back into our lives, simply by immersing ourselves in natural worlds. Now more than ever, returning to natures vast, and complex landscapes to learn, to play and grow – can be exactly what we and our children need to become passionate about life and live a life full of meaning and connectedness to the Earth and each other.

Yet when we have a schooling system that strips the connection between the elements, and calls them different subjects, we are less likely to see patterns, because all we have been given is the separate parts. This creates a disconnect from our natural learning process.

When we are learning about maths lets go onto the landscape to discover mathematics in nature. When we want to learn language, lets discover the myths of the local area, the names of the plants, animals and rocks around us. When it is time for learning about physics, chemistry, biology or physiology – how can a natural environment serve as a classroom for these lessons? What about history? We want to learn about the history of Australia? Travel to historic sites. Travel to places of great geological history. Even take the class zoom call out to the garden, sit among the trees or on a picnic rug on the ground.

Start combining Nature back into the classroom, how we teach, how we learn and watch the world become more and more integrated as we journey back towards an integrated understanding of life.


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