Extracts from a presentation by Dr Darius Singh and Nikeeta Singh (Founders and Directors of the Chrysalis Family of ECE Centres), to be published at the American Geophysical Union, Earth and Space Science Convention in USA, December 2019
Let’s be Honest…
Sustainability is not about us humans posing as self appointed “guardians” of Earth where we are all in a sudden panic now to save it. Rather, sustainability is about us protecting our very survival as a species on Earth. As a species we have been around for only 0.0002 billion years whereas the Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years – that’s 23,000 times longer, with all its long term and self preserving systems of feedback loops, cycles and rhythms (most of which we can’t even feel nor fathom!). ‘Earth’ is not the one that needs saving.
Images like the one above depicting human hands holding the Earth are grossly misrepresented – it should be the other way around. “Earth doesn’t need People – People need Earth”. This realisation is now more critical than it has ever been since the first civilisations of humankind were formed around 6,000 years ago. Up until recent centuries, we had to fight nature to survive – but now we realise we need to protect nature if we are to continue to survive. Reviewing current scientific evidence and understanding, Earth has always been sustainable, no matter what species dominated it or what external forces impacted it. Science also has uncovered evidence that five mass extinction events have already occurred in the last 500 million years, already wiping out 99% of all species that have ever lived on Earth! And all through those centuries and millennia, one living entity has always survived through it all and rebooted and restarted with new forms of life – EARTH!
- According to a UN report we have only 11 years left to make drastic, global environmental changes aimed at combating (human accelerated) climate change.
- Research released only a few days ago from the largest Earth and Space Science organisation in the world has published that human activity now annually releases into the atmosphere up to 100 times as much carbon dioxide as does all volcanic activity. That’s also a slightly higher rate of carbon emission than Earth experienced just after the asteroid impact that likely killed the dinosaurs, researchers found (Cartier, K. M. S. (Oct 2019).
- The last ice age ended around 11,700 years ago with seas levels sinking 120m lower than today (Schmidt & Hertzberg, 2011). Current understanding from science is that the Earth has experienced five ice ages over its 4.6 billion year history. An interesting consideration is that humans did not cause any of them – Earth did!
Whatever the research, whatever the argument for or against climate change causes and effects, we acknowledge that we as a species are certainly accelerating Earth’s natural glacial/interglacial cycles on some level. But one fact remains: Earth survived then – it will survive again. The real question is “will we”?
- Given that we have more than doubled our species’ population in the last 50 years (from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people) and still climbing at present birth/death rates to reach 10 billion by the end of the century;
- Given this generation alone has consumed over 300% more natural resources than ever before;
- Given we are still destroying forests around the world equivalent to wiping out the same area as New Zealand off the map each year (Global Forest Watch);
- Given we are still dumping between 4.8 – 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic into the oceans (Jambeck et al., Journal Science 2015);
We are clearly not ready yet for the consequences of our accelerated and amplified impact on the planet. It is clear that we can not continue along our trajectory and expect the next generation to miraculously counter-balance it all. It is also clear that we can not continue to promote our unsustainable living patterns to our children who had no part nor influence in creating the environments that they were born into.
Fortunately, part of the complex solution has been right in front of us for a long time and so, rather than gathering more statistics, graphs, evidence and hearing more from policy makers about the problems “the Earth” faces, we believe we have seen and heard enough, and we have simply gotten on with it for over a decade within our family of ECE centres.
“Earth doesn’t need People –
People need Earth”
“We need to ensure we leave the planet and our future in safer hands than ours”
Earth survived then; it will survive again.
The real question is “will we”?
What is the Chrysalis Family of ECE Centres doing about it in our small corner of the world?
We are believers in laudable visions, but we also believe in backing these up with credible and continuous baby steps in a long journey. We have always adopted a problem solving methodology known as ‘Biomimicry’. Biomimicry aims to better understand successful strategies adopted by nature to better adapt organisms to life, and then mimic and apply such strategies to solve human problems.“ (Lipholt, 2019). A recent study was conducted at the University of Waikato Management School about our award winning group of centres (Oman et al., 2019). The report identified and described our centres’ uses of biomimicry in problem solving and childcare operations to achieve positive outcomes for children, colleagues, centres and communities (our 4C’s) that we see every day. For example:
- mimic photosynthesis with solar panels;
- mimic bromeliad leaves with rainwater recycling systems;
- mimic plant roots via a myriad deeply penetrating building foundations lifting our preschool wing into the air;
- mimic breathing systems of fish gills for natural ventilation;
- mimic mini forests to foster an affinity with Earth’s eco-systems;
- mimic rivers and streams to foster an affinity with Earth’s eco-systems;
Our gardens and orchards:
- mimic forest eco-systems with permaculture / food forest principles;
Our sleep rooms:
- mimic the Milky Way Galaxy, with soft projections of Earth, Moon and constellations onto the ceiling;
- mimic the oceans, with projections of water ripples along the floor and walls to create a sense of belonging with all life and all environments;
- mimic insides of trees;
- mimic giant cocoons;
- mimic floating on clouds;
Our curriculum outputs:
- mimic a living tree via an online tool, which we invented to show the learning and development areas literally growing like leaves and branches for your child (Roots and Shoots™);
Our centre philosophy:
- mimics the Earth itself with our Gaia Education Principle® (described below)
Our core values:
- mimic Earth’s four seasons with 24 aligned attributes, qualities and values that Earth shows in each season of the year.
As the proud winners of the “Excellence in Sustainable Practices Award” at the 2018 Westpac Business Excellence Awards, we understand that genuine sustainable practices need to be holistic, regular and practical, starting within yourself first, then at home within your family, then at your childcare centres, schools and places of work, then within your wider communities.
We are fortunate that all our teachers at Chrysalis (Avondale), Magic Kingdom (Blockhouse Bay), Gaia Earth Preschool (Manurewa), and Fern Garden (Tauranga), are on this journey for as much personal as well as professional reasons. Our teachers and parents have always inspired us to achieve and do more in education, and so for the last decade we have been investing in and practicing the full spectrum of what we call the Gaia Education Principle®. Read on to see what we mean…
Gaia Education Principle®
Continuing both their families’ journeys spanning three generations of teachers, Nikeeta and Darius drew from that wealth of ‘tried and true’ family experience and history, and founded the Chrysalis Group and the Gaia Education Principle® over a decade ago. “Our vision for our continuing journey was for every aspect of teaching and learning to be surrounded with natural outdoor environments, biophilic building designs, core values, and curriculum delivery that are ALL inspired by Earth and all its millennia of clues for life-long learning”. Since then, each of our childcare centres has added vital pieces of the overall jigsaw puzzle to achieve this ultimate vision.
We have not been alone in this journey; over 3000 forest schools and preschools, bush kindys, farm preschools, outdoor programmes, nature based childcare centres around the world (including over two dozen ECE centres and schools in NZ) have been adding key pieces to the overall delivery framework of the Gaia Education Principle® as shown alongside, which also biomimics the Earth’s own layers for sustainable living (Singh, 2018):
- external atmospheric layer (i.e. our teaching and learning environment),
- internal ground layer (i.e. our face to face teaching and learning moments), and
- inner core layer (i.e. our core personal and professional values).
This delivery mode is quite simply about fundamental decisions at the earliest outset when designing and bringing a vision of a childcare centre or school or university to life. It is when critical decisions need to be made of investing in learning spaces, functions and visual reflections, that are inspired by Nature and Earth’s eco-systems. For example:
a) Outdoor environments that create an experience of belonging to a natural, ecologically cycling, seasonal world…
b) Centres, schools, classrooms, spaces that model biomimicry with:
- natural ventilation systems (self breathing),
- solar power systems (self energising),
- rainwater harvesting systems (self replenishing),
- earth heating (self regulating),
- intelligent systems (self managing),
- recycling systems (self sustaining), etc…
c) Other design elements inside buildings, classrooms or playgrounds that reflect a respect for or an attribute of Nature…
This is the groundwork, the day to day activities in a centre’s curriculum where teachers look for and find opportunities to express, emphasise, evaluate and exemplify learnings and outcomes through examples found from Earth. It is also an introduction to a life long fascination of the world of Earth Sciences; from a single leaf to how entire forest eco-systems work; from a drop of water to entire oceans and weather patterns; from a pebble to entire mountain ranges. And it is also about those precious moments in time, when the grass-roots “internal” delivery of Gaia (Earth) inspired education is happening between a teacher and a child, that can be treasured, absorbed and taken with them throughout their life-long learning journey.
No-one does this better and more directly than over 3000 “forest kindys” as shown on the world map. Originating in Denmark in the 1950’s, there are a growing number of “farm school”, “bush kindy” and “forest preschool” based ECE centres in NZ too, and some who continue to inspire us are:
- Ako Space,
- Apples Childcare and Learning Centre,
- Back2Nature Childcare,
- Birchville Kindergarten,
- Campbells Bay ELC,
- Children’s Garden,
- Chrysalis ELC,
- Conscious Kids,
- Country Bears Nature Childcare,
- Fantails Country,
- Farm Friends,
- Fern Garden Preschool,
- Fiordland Kindergarten Nature Discovery,
- Forest School,
- Gaia (Earth) Preschool NZ,
- Gems Educational Childcare – Farm School,
- Green School NZ,
- Harriette Vine Kindergarten,
- He Manu Hou ECE,
- Little Kiwis Bush Kindy,
- Loving Care Kindergarten,
- Magic Kingdom Childcare,
- Nature Kids Motueka
- Nature’s Point Childcare
- Nature School
- New Shoots Pakuranga
- Newstead Country Preschool
- Ngā Tamariki o Te Tai Ao (Children of the Natural World)
- Old Macdonald’s Country Kindy,
- Open Spaces Preschool,
- Organic Kids,
- Play and Learn programmes,
- Pohutukawa ELC,
- Plimmerton Kindergarten,
- Puaka Bush School,
- Raumati South Kindergartens,
- Roskill South Kindergarten,
- Southland Kindergarten Association,
- Sunshine Kindergarten,
- Teal Valley Forest Kindergarten Programme,
- The DEN (Discover Education in Nature),
- Timbernook Hawkes Bay,
- Waikanae Kindergarten,
- Waikino School,
and many more schools that are part of the Enviro-schools programme.
This mode rests at the heart of it all – the Values of a childcare centre or school and how these are all displayed with connectivity to Nature/Earth. Some examples that centres may promote would be Resilience, Innovative thinking, Sustainability, Empowerment, Balance, Respect, Nurture, Connectedness, Adaptability, Guardianship, Continuous Improvement, etc. These values may already exist in a centre or school, and they can reach a Gaia (Earth) inspired level when references and resources are shown regularly to children through the curriculum, connecting the fact that Nature has always been illustrating that same attribute, quality or value for billions of years longer than any of our centres’ or school’s dozens of years!!
How can your preschool or school make a difference too?
Whether you and your school are inspired by any philosophy like Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, RIE, Pickler, Friluftsliv, Community, etc, it is the deepening, extension and connection of all our actions and outcomes from these philosophies with Earth’s journey and introducing a passion for Earth Sciences that is what Gaia inspired education is all about.
With all the guiding elements of principles and delivery modes and resources in place as highlighted above, any centre can transform towards becoming a more sustainable, nature aligned, bio-mimicking, and Gaia (Earth) inspired place of teaching and learning to achieve lifelong outcomes for children …. and create a future of survival for them that we are all hoping for.