If we are looking to build momentum for change, education is fundamental.
We aspire that our coming generation acquires education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, along with human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence and global citizenship. We want our coming generation not just to support the making of beautiful earth but are themselves beautiful human beings.
One of the most desired outcomes of teaching sustainability is Social-Emotional learning. Nature provides an incredible resource for teaching and learning about caring and emphasizing social-emotional development. Teaching sustainability enhances our ability to do work that is both good for the earth and good for the development of our children.
Some of the values that environmental sustainability can teach students are justice and equity, honesty and trustworthiness, integrity and altruism, respect for nature and the planet, and the golden rule of reciprocity. When we can meet sustainability goals with SEL, our students will have a virtuous life as its reward. In addition, we will be able to look ahead to a future society that will largely self-regulate.
By looking for SEL outcomes in sustainability, we are establishing a rewarding reciprocal relationship. Calm and alert children can better handle challenging situations and problem-solve effectively. As adults, these children will be better able to navigate life challenges and solve the world's problems.
There is a natural tendency in young people to want to acquire values and to live by them. However, given the unsustainability of the modern consumer culture and its tendencies to peer pressure, dependencies and even addiction, a special effort is needed in the pre-adolescent years to teach young people the higher values of environmental responsibility and social service.
Learning sustainability by interacting with nature can have several SEL benefits for children -
Nature can provide an endless source of challenges to our young people that recruits the brains cognitive and emotional resources. Nature also promotes self-regulation by activating the nervous system responsible for putting the body in a calm and alert state.
Nature helps facilitate greater emotional control and focused attention as it provides an optimal sensory experience that does not overwhelm the brain. The sensory experience provided by nature allows children to interpret the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences in an integrated manner because engaging in nature is also associated with a natural pull towards mindfulness.
Following are examples of how learning about the environment and interacting with nature can facilitate SEL principles.
Nonjudging: Nature can provide examples of how to sit with the ambivalence of some experiences.
Patience: Nature teaches many lessons in patience. A butterfly removed prematurely from its cocoon will not survive. Nature provides numerous examples of timing, how it is essential and the benefits of waiting.
Curiosity: Nature is the host to experiences that bring awe and wonder to life. Children tend to experience life with enthusiasm. For example, a double rainbow following the storm is miraculous to the observer and ignites curiosity.
Trust: Engaging in nature provides a multitude of experiences that challenges physical and cognitive skills. Varied aspects of nature help children develop a sense of trust in their abilities to navigate these challenges. When planted and does not grow, a seed gives lessons about disappointment, reevaluation, tenacity, among many other possible lessons.
Acceptance: Engaging in nature also helps children to cultivate an attitude of willingness to experience things as they are without avoidance or denial. Interacting with nature can mean being cold, hungry, or wet at times. These experiences provide a great lesson to practice acceptance.
Spending time in and engaging with nature provides an opportunity for children to learn new coping skills, expand their schema, regulate their emotions organically and creatively. Given its promising effects, clinicians and educators alike should investigate utilizing nature-based approaches in teaching SEL.
Whether children are learning environmental education indoors or outdoors, interacting with nature and learning about the sustainable environment through value building SEL goals will indeed promise us a prosperous future for our coming generation.