SUS-WOO KIDS: A Child of Nature

Conclusion: Living in Balance

By Michael Caduto

How do we, in these times, create a social, cultural and educational context that helps children to live in balance with the natural world? How do we help youth to understand how their own health is interconnected to that of nature, and to develop a nurturing relationship with the plants and animals, the soil, the water and sky?

Growing a Green Heart symbolizes a nurturing relationship with nature. Here an herb (rosemary) is trained as it grows around a heart-shaped trellis. Illustration: Michael J. Caduto.

Individuals from a particular culture tend to learn in distinct ways, using the various kinds of human intelligence in unique patterns and combinations. For example, in Native North America, and among many other indigenous cultures around the world, traditional education takes the form of initiation rites and direct observation of elders, who hold and pass on important knowledge. Indigenous learning emphasizes certain kinds of intelligence, including several forms that are identified by Howard Gardner in his book Frames of Mind: spatial, bodily, interpersonal, linguistic and musical. This learning environment is rich in context and meaning.

Educators in the Western tradition often put their trust in knowledge; believing that teaching the natural and physical sciences is enough. While facts are essential for understanding the natural world, they also need to relate to each child’s particular experience of culture and family. Weaving education into this context is critical if a child is to learn how to live in a healthy, interrelated way with nature and other people. 

One educational model, The Circles and Cycles of Life, synthesizes more than three decades of the author’s study and practice of integrating science and nature into the social and cultural aspects of each child’s life. At the heart of this existence is the wisdom of the elders—a seed that is planted at the core of every child’s inner being and grows throughout life. Here are some of the essential circles and cycles around which to nurture a life in balance:

  • Wisdom Circle of the Elders
  • Circles of Life: generations, life & death, giving and receiving, celebration, family, community and beyond
  • Cycles of Nature: solar (year & day/night), lunar, seasons, water, nutrients, gases, rocks

What can we do, in these challenging times, to weave these circles and cycles into the fabric of each child’s sense of being—to help our children develop a healthy, balanced way of life? How can we accomplish this when our children are being raised and taught in so many different kinds of families and school settings, as well as experiencing diverse cultural traditions, faith communities and geographic environments? Traveling this road will entail a tremendous amount of work; in diverse societies, there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Here are some critical steps designed to make the journey possible:

  • Help children to see their own lives as stories that are unfolding each day, and to realize that they are actively creating their own stories—the directions their lives will take—by the kinds of choices they make and actions they decide to take.
  • Instill in children the self-confidence to act and believe in the possibility of changing the world for the better, and the ability to stand up for the things they love.
  • Use the Circles and Cycles of Life as the foundation for creating customized models for apprenticing children in the ways of nature, as viewed through the lens of their own particular life situations, including family, culture, schooling, geography, ecology, community and spiritual tradition.
  • Build into each of these models a “rite of passage” when children, upon reaching adolescence, formally transition from being a Child of Nature into becoming an adult who strives to live a Life In Balance.
  • Give children the tools to be effective Earth stewards, including knowledge of the plants, animals and ecosystems as well as the skills for working (and playing) on their behalf.
  • Actively encourage an environmental ethic in children by exposing them to the inspiring life stories of such real-life role models and heroes as Rachel Carson, Greta Thunberg, Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, Wangari Maathai and the many young ecoheroes who are recognized for their great green deeds each year:
  • Work toward getting children off of their electronic devices and out into the natural world. Peruse websites aimed at inspiring children to log off, go outside and play at the whim of their own creative devices, such as:
  • Educate children with the awareness and analytical skills that will enable them to look behind the messages they receive while using electronic devices, so that they are capable of making their own critical decisions.
  • Continue growing the global movements, as well as the national and local organizations that are working to connect children to nature and helping youth to see how their own wellbeing and that of their surroundings is connected, such as the Children and Nature Network, National Wildlife Federation, North American Association for Environmental Education, National Audubon Society and their various regional chapters and affiliates.

Above all else, we need to offer parents, teachers, guardians and leaders of the various cultural and spiritual groups within each community—those who raise our children—the tools for creating nurturing environments. Only by teaching children how to grow a healthy body, mind and spirit can we guide them along the path toward living in balance with the world around them.

The author’s educational model, Circles and Cycles of Life (used with permission) first appeared in: Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants Through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.


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