Stories from my personal journey learning about and delivering Nature-rooted programs across three different countries
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Language is funny. Sometimes I can’t quite find the right words to describe what I truly mean. I have this problem all the time when trying to tell people what my job is.
“What is it that you do?,” they ask.
I’ll respond with something like, “Uhhh well outdoor environmental education learning Nature-based connection with the Land forest school stuff.”
Sometimes I just say I’m an educator because that’s easier. And maybe that's what I really mean. Because that’s my point. Maybe I don’t have language to describe certain things because those things don’t yet exist in the culture my language is a part of. Maybe I’m trying to create a new culture (and make space for ancient ones) where I could simply call myself an educator. Where what I did to support others in their learning process was simply understood to be grounded in this wider more-than-human world we’re apart of.
I’m a dreamer. I know that. Most of the time I live in the world I wish to create rather than the one I’m in now. That’s hard, especially when others do their darnedest to bring me back to “reality.” But I don’t believe in one reality. I have lived in too many different places in my short life to know that we as individuals, and collectively, create our reality. We write our own stories, we determine what is important to us, and we can make choices and changes to serve ourselves and others in healthier ways. I didn’t say doing this is easy, or comes without risk. I just know it’s possible.
So what is that I do you ask? Good question. But perhaps the better question is who is it that you are?
Today I am an educator. An educator that knows I cannot survive in a human-dominated environment. And so I must do and be something different. When I lived in the UK, this looked like being a “Forest School Leader.” That was language that was understood enough in the culture there to feel like a fit. When I moved to New England, my work became “Nature-based.” Again, they were the words that seemed to fit the current language of that place, a colonized place and traditional territory of the Abenaki people. But since I’ve moved again, to the unceded land of the Algonquin nation in Ottawa Canada, I wonder who am I here? An educator still, yes. Very much so. But I know that doesn’t quite explain it.... yet. So what language do I use to co-create the reality I see into existence? It’s part Forest School, part Nature-based, part Outdoor Learning, part Environmental Education. But it’s more than that too...
In fact, even using the word “Nature” makes me feel uncomfortable because it feels like a perpetuation of the notion that humans are somehow separate from everything else... a notion that was and continues to be enforced through colonization, to the detriment of Indigenous communities.
But for now I know I must include that word. Nature is one of the few in the English language that reminds people that beings other than ourselves still exist. It’s a prod and a poke to think beyond a human-centred world. To remember we need connection. We need roots. It’s our lifeline, and the lifeline of so many other beings too.
So perhaps, in that, I’ve found my language for now..... I work hard (and often against the grain) to root who I am and what I do in the lessons taught by the wider world around me. To open myself up, and support others who wish to join me, to listening to the words (not spoken in English), of those that are beyond myself.
I am a Nature-rooted educator.
And with this new understanding, I have revised my original definition of Forest Schooled, to better represent my evolving self.
It used to say...
1. educated or trained in the Forest School ethos 2. taught a lesson related to Forest School (the hard way) 3. challenged, educated, and humbled by the features and forces of the natural world
Now it says this...
(a Nature-rooted learning journey)
1. guided, challenged, humbled, and befriended by the features and forces of the natural world 2. inspired to embed connections to the more-than-human-world in my day-to-day life, continuously self-reflect, and adapt my practices to meet community needs over time 3. taught a lesson related to learning, the Land, and life (the hard way)
So whether “Forest School” is your invitation, or “Environmental Education”, or “Outdoor Learning", or a “Nature-based” approach, or perhaps another experience or model that has inspired you, I welcome you to join me in this continued journey of learning with, from, and among the natural world - to be Nature-rooted.
And what I really love about this particular use of language is the significant symbolism in roots. Roots act as anchors to the ground. They wind their way deep into the earth and usually remain unseen, unless we dig down to find them. Kind of like the stories of our own lives, and those that have come before us, that have shaped who we are today.
Roots also serve as the essential providers for new growth. They take in water and elements from the soil, rich in nutrients that feed, and turn them into a strong creative energy that brings forth new life. Roots connect what is above to what is below. The link between our past, our present, and our future.
There's so much we can learn from roots.
And so now I turn towards Nature-rooted learning....