Mō tātou te taiao ko te atawhai, mō tātou te taiao ko te oranga
It is for us to care for and look after the environment to ensure its wellbeing, in doing so we ensure our own well being and that of our future generations.
Te Kura o Papatuanuku Wairarapa Earth School project is based on the future-focussed, overarching sustainability theme - using the connection with a healthy future for our planet as a key to engaging students in science, technology, engineering, maths and geography.
The project-based learning approach, in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge, is used to capture student passion and interest in the project.
Sustainability is a critical issue for New Zealand – environmentally, economically, culturally, politically, and socially. We need to learn how to live smarter to reduce our impact on the environment for future generations. The future-focus theme of sustainability is evident throughout The New Zealand Curriculum. It is integral to the vision, principles, values, and key competencies, and provides relevant and authentic contexts across the eight learning areas.
“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength”
If given the choice, most children would choose the outdoor classroom over the indoor one, every time. So we thought: “Why not give them the choice, to design their own farm and their own science and technology classrooms?”
“The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea: the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.”
If you needed to, could you build a home to live in? Could you cook a whole, nutritious meal from scratch? Could you sew clothing for your family if shops disappeared? If there was a local or national disaster, could your community feed itself and access clean water or are they dependent on other regions, as are most urban areas, for these very basics of life?
If it was up to you to see to your own survival, how do think you'd make out?
Farm school teaches these basic skills. I was reading about Montessori education for high school students and how the Montessori method translates into a high school learning model. I came across this passage online and it inspired the Earth School idea:
"The Montessori program for the young adult from age twelve to fifteen is very different from that of traditional school.
Dr. Montessori felt that because of the rapid growth, the increased need for sleep, and hormonal changes, it is useless to try to force the adolescent to concentrate on intellectual work.
She recommended an Erdkinder, or Earth school, where children would live close to nature, eat fresh farm products, and carry on practical work related to the economics of supplying food, shelter, transportation, and so forth. Intellectual work is still done, following the child's interests, but without pressure."
- Joseph Chilton Pearce, Evolution's End
In an Erdkinder (German for Earth-Children) program, the children live on a farm and their 'schooling' consists of running the farm as a business, including caring for the animals and tending the crops. Interspersed with these weighty tasks are academic studies based on real books and field trips. The goal of Erdkinder is to produce adults who are equipped with the confidence in themselves and actual skills to live in the real world.
This is not limited to teenagers ... children of all ages need to connect with the land and learn basic life skills related to feeding themselves and finding shelter. So I imagined an earth school project where the children work together ages 5-16 to think about food production, and green building technologies to research and design their own sustainable learning environment where they can explore weather patterns, energy generation, growing and cooking food as part of their own practical hands on science curriculum.
Traditions and skills can be handed down via community mentors and experts, skills as simple as preserving fruit and flax-weaving, bee-keeping and remedy recipes.
“So all we could do was to Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! And we did not like it. Not one little bit”
Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat.
Maria Montessori was astonished that most cultures immobilize children behind desks rather than let them put their energies into meaningful projects.
Research supports the need for children to spend more time outdoors.
Unfortunately, studies indicate that children are spending only half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, says that children today do not have as many direct experiences with nature and worries that this is forming a disconnect between the mind and body.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Laura Markham suggests that children who spend time outdoors are calmer, happier, healthier, and more creative; have longer attention spans, and do better in school.
Dr. Montessori understood the importance of taking children outside. By developing an appreciation at a young age, children naturally will grow to be respectful stewards and caretakers of the earth.
Montessori seeks to connect primary age children with the earth by telling the 'big bang' story ...
Once upon a time there was no earth. Earth-to-be was part of a cloud of stardust floating through space. The cloud shrank and flattened into a disk shape that began to spin and grow tighter and tighter until WHOOSH! The centre flared into the sun, and the planets, including earth, formed in the outer part of the disk.
How precious earth becomes for children, and all of us, when we hear the story of how our earth was born out of stardust. The story evokes such a powerful sense of connection, not only with our own special planet, but with the universe as a whole and the great cosmic adventure that we’re all part of. Inside the greater cosmic story, we can’t take earth for granted. It wasn’t always here. Its existence and its capacity to support life rests upon the epic of evolution that brought it into being and the balance of complex interrelationships. Through the story of the universe, we lift off of earth — just as astronauts have done — and see our home as more unique and wondrous than ever.
Farm school is not a new concept; there are some amazing examples right here in New Zealand. Three years ago, Hukerenui School in Northland had a block of land that wasn’t being well used. Much of the area was out of bounds for the children and the school’s caretaker was spending hours mowing all the excess grassy space.
That’s when a group of Year 6 students had a brainstorming session and came up with a variety of agricultural and horticultural projects which would make best use of the land and provide real-life learning opportunities for the entire school.
Hukerenui principal Bastienne Kruger is a visionary and dynamic leader, but she says the bulk of the work was undertaken by four girls who formed the school’s Community Problem Solving Team, which is part of New Zealand’s Future Problem Solving Programme for the gifted and talented.
The girls came up with the concepts and then managed every single step along the way, from organising the maize contractors to preparing teaching resources, lesson plans and teaching classes. This is a mainstream NZ primary school allowing the students to take the lead and plan their own learning. Read more here.
We have created a page to help teachers get going with project based learning:
“The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth”