Cultivating ecological identities requires children to have outdoor experiences with adults that role model an interest in the world around them. Consider these two quotations from well-known ecologist David Orr and biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson.
Ecological literacy is driven by the sense of wonder, the sheer delight in being alive in a beautiful, mysterious, bountiful world. (Orr, 1992, p. 86)
“To keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” a child, in Rachel Carson’s words, “needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in”. (Carson, 1965, p. 65)
How do these two quotations speak to you? What images come to your mind? What do you envision for children when you read these quotations?
Most adult environmentalists attribute their commitment to the planet to two things: significant periods of time spent outdoors in wild or semi-wild places during childhood, and an adult who showed respect for nature and served as a role model (Allen, 2013). Why is it important for our children to have such role models? What might you need to adjust in your practice to be that adult for children?
An ecological identity encompasses these qualities of knowing and living in place:
- Learning to read a landscape;
- Coming to know a place and its local ecology;
- Strengthening and being strengthened by a feeling of kinship with the living world;
- Developing an aesthetic appreciation influenced by the patterns, textures, colours, lines and forms of the natural world (Orr, 1992).
There are five aspects of ecological literacy. Below the graphic, click on each of the words to reveal more information about each aspect of ecological literacy.
Principles of living systems
Ecoliteracy connects children to living systems. Living systems are open, self-organizing. Examples of living systems include the human body, a forest, or a river, as well as human-created organizations such as communities or schools. Connecting children to natural systems provides them with a deep sense of place and an understanding of their local environment.
Design inspired by nature
Ecological literacy is about applying understanding of the natural world to the redesign of organizations, communities, businesses, and societies to align with ecological principles.
Ecological literacy is also guided by an understanding of systems, or systems thinking (sometimes called holistic or relational thinking). Because a system is a set of interdependent, interrelated parts that make up a complex and unified whole, it cannot be fully understood by analyzing its constituent parts. Ecological literacy involves applying a way of thinking that emphasizes relationships, connectedness, and context.
Transition to sustainability
Ecological literacy is partly aimed at triggering large-scale social change in how humans live on the planet leading to genuine sustainability of the planet. Sustainability is the process to create a vibrant society that reduces poverty and waste to create a diverse and vibrant community.
Collaboration, community building, and citizenship
Ecological literacy is about emphasizing collaboration and partnership as a hallmark of living systems and life. Ecologically literate children are also community builders and active citizens.
Visualize a place from your childhood that is special to you and represents a space where you learned in and with nature. Describe this place in the comment box below. What type of things did you do in this place?