As we teach each day, it may be easy for many of us to remember that there is an entire world outside our classroom windows. That world is not the world of concrete and manufactured environments but the world of nature. That doesn’t include the sculpted landscape, the very safe playground with its underlay of very safe mulch, the car park with its solitary trees struggling against the curbs, or the travel paths between door and pickup car-line. It is a very different world.

Does it matter to us as we teach?

Many of us use the term global warming almost reflexively to denote all the bad things that humans do within the natural order. But global warming is as disconnected from the realities it speaks about for children as it is ominous in its bogeyman scariness. We show children videos of icebergs breaking off under fluorescent bulbs, discuss carbon offsets in coal warmed classrooms, go on field trips to other buildings aka nature museums, but being actually in the nature we mourn the loss of is a very different experience.

Does it matter to us as we teach?

A study referenced by Robert McFarlane noted that Cambridge researchers showed that children aged 4-11 had about 80% accuracy in identifying Pokemon characters but under 50% accuracy identifying common birds and plants. He summarizes their concerns as follows: “Young children clearly have tremendous capacity for learning about creatures (whether natural or manmade),” they wrote, but they are presently “more inspired by synthetic subjects” than by “living creatures”. They pointed to evidence linking “loss of knowledge about the natural world to growing isolation from it”. We need, the paper concluded, “to re-establish children’s links with nature if we are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation”, for “we love what we know … What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren”?

In a study sponsored by toy company Sylvanian Families, “one in seven 25 to 30 years olds believed the best way to attract bees and butterflies to their garden was to put pictures of bees and butterflies around their garden”. The marketing manager said: “Some of this confusion would be stamped out if people spent more time outside with their children teaching them about animals and plant life. Playing outside as a family also has emotional and social benefits, as well as encouraging curiosity about the world around us.”

What does that matter to us as we teach?

Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods talks about valuing “ecological projects over beautification” and quoting Mary Rivkin from the University of Maryland: “Seeing such things is only part of learning about them. Touching, tasting, smelling, and pulling apart are also vital. Shrubs and trees for climbing are the real thing.”

This matters a lot to us as we teach. To quote Louv again, it’s not just about ideology, or even survival. It’s because of the joy we experience when we share the natural world.