Nature-Based Learning for the Young Child

by Maureen Curran
Nature-Based Learning for the Young Child
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by Maureen Curran

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
John Muir

Living close to the natural world, listening, and observing without opinions or judgments are essential for the guide and teacher who will lead young people toward freedom. The path is created first from the experience, then to the concept. This phenomenological epistemology helps the young person to form their own ideas and leaves them free. We have the means to teach how to lead a balanced, harmonious life in concert with the natural world by working consciously with the earthly forces and the cosmic forces that are involved in shaping the human being.

When the child is allowed to play and move without contrived activities, the body that this child received will not be bound to the human three planes of space, but instead be freed to experience the forces that are infinite. These earthly and cosmic forces will call on a harmonious balance between heaven and earth and will later free cosmic imaginations, and pure thinking.  In the developing child into adolescent through adulthood and into old age, one will witness the light-filled eyes of she who has lived the archetypes. An artistic faculty of imaginative perception is developed through her freedom of movement, and the world can then think through her. Hence the human body is the foundation for the unfolding of soul and spirit.

We can witness the stages of the developing child as we observe the child in play. The crawling infant propels herself through space moving towards those things that she sees and wants.

This child lives on the earth’s horizon.  In order for her to move forward, a counter movement is active. She pushes down to go up on her belly, she pushes back with her legs and she moves forward! She sees the world from her tummy or back. It isn’t until she has the strength and co ordination to prop herself up so that she can balance in order to sit.

While attempting to stand, she reaches beneath her and plays with a new horizon, one that is beneath her feet, when as recently as a few months ago she had that same plane beneath her back and stomach. Her perspective of the world is now from her feet. She begins to step by playing with the rhythm of her little springy knees!! She stands, steps and stands again. Her hip now enters the horizontal plane and she falls forward out of that fall. A counter-movement occurs whereby her foot pushes against the earth and the hip engages in a reflex and she steps. The levity forces give her the uprightness of herself in space. The forces of gravity hold her to the earth.

Nature provides a playful world, a contained space with secret places to discover: trees for hanging ropes and climbing, water for splashing and digging in, soil for tunneling, rocks to jump off of and onto, wood limbs and logs to teeter and balance on, tunnels to crawl through, long walks through the woods, paths leading to nowhere, stones to finish paths, stones for wall building, natural materials for house and fort building. Play is enhanced with shovels to stack piles of dirt for mounds, ropes of wool and hemp, hammocks to hang on, climb on, swing on, balls of wool to throw, kick, and catch. The children will construct little villages with laws and order that they create together. They play out these rules, and they will constantly change forms according to the play.

Their play is close by to adults in the early years, and as their limbs grow, so does the adult-child boundary widen.  The blood begins to deeply carve out the pathways of the veins as the child stretches her horizons. Now her muscles begin to develop and she begins feeling her outer strength that meets her inner longing. She refines her skills and learns to manipulate matter. As she wanders, romps, and wrestles with the natural world she shapes her physical and emotional bodies. Her muscles are getting stronger; her tendons are calling for resistance. She climbs higher, travels further, and swings longer until her tendons stretch to their limits. Her bones hold her frame upright and are ready now for the next challenge.

Learning to shape the environment through the physical body teaches the child how to live with the natural forces around and inside her.  These forces can later be freed up in order to build the faculties for creating beautiful artistic creations and for thinking, learning and relating to the world, thus creating a harmonious union between body, soul and spirit, a three-foldness of willing, feeling, and thinking.

Written for the Handbook for Practitioners of Movement As a Path of Transformation

© Movement As a Path of Transformation

Maureen Curran has been an international movement educator for over 30 years. Maureen is the founder and director of Movement as a Path of Transformation (MAPT), an organization that strives to inspire re- juvenation, innovation, and renewal of the land, individual, and the community through the synergy of the art of movement and nature. www.movementasapath.com

4 Comments

  1. Thank you Valerie and Maureen,

    How great it would be to be in touch and share some news!!!

    Bless you and your work, I would greatly appreciate an e-mail for Maureen.

    Best wishes, Peter Sheen

  2. This kind of ties in with the book “Last child in the woods” by Richard Louv, a book my husband recommends to all his forestry students.

  3. Beautiful article. Good luck with this wonderful work.

  4. Thankyou Maureen. As a lay-person passionate about free movement and free play for children, this takes my understanding a deeper: the tendons and resistance bit especially. I remember it as a child tree climber. And another angle for outside living and playing – besides the earthing and belonging.

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