Gaia (Earth) Inspired ECE – a journey back to the future…

Tue 20 Nov 2018

This blog is a series of extracts from the recent publication “Gaia (Earth) based Education Principle – a journey back to the future”, by Dr Darius Singh and Nikeeta Singh, published and presented at:

  • The International Conference for Education, Research and Innovation, Seville, Spain, Nov 2018
  • The International Conference for Future Learning, Barcelona, Spain, Dec 2018

BACKGROUND

In the 1960’s, a NASA scientist named James Lovelock and his team were tasked with the mission to determine whether there were any signs of life on Mars. Given their formulated definitions and criteria for “life”, they concluded that Mars was indeed lifeless. However, when turning to Earth and applying the same set of definitions and criteria, they could clearly conclude that Earth itself was behaving as a “living system” and ...a self preserving system of feedback loops”, in which “…all organisms are closely integrated to form a single complex system that maintains conditions for life on the planet…”

The idea was named the “Gaia” Hypothesis, named after the Ancient Greek Goddess of Earth or Mother Earth. Interestingly, since the dawn of civilisation, ancient cultures have gravitated to a connection with the Earth and personified it as a “Mother Earth” figure, symbol or deity. Amazingly, this common thread has always unified practically every culture on Earth!

In more recent decades, a wave of connectivity with Nature, Organic or Earth based alternative products has swept over multiple industries around the world such as medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, food, energy, engineering, materials science, neuroscience, and architecture as the following examples illustrate:

PROBLEMS

A real problem facing children today, perhaps for the first time in human history, is that they are becoming more and more detached from the natural world and losing an intimate understanding and connectivity with the planet. With city/urban planning around the world driven to optimise land, subdivide properties, and build sky-high apartments, the once known concept of a “backyard” to play in is rapidly disappearing. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods”, Richard Louv discusses what he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder”, while Professor Jane Clark from University of Maryland, USA, has coined an expression “Containerized Kids” in her recent research in kinesiology (the study of human movement).

But is it really our children’s fault that some don’t know where carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cheese and even milk comes from (as revealed in a British Nutrition Foundation study of 27,000 children aged between 5-16). Is it really their fault that they have been born into a time of an overwhelming “consumer age” in which we as a species are consuming and wasting at a rate 300% higher than ever before? Is it also their fault that they have been born into the most demanding “hybrid age” in which digital technology is ubiquitous in their lives, and especially in the preschool and youth years, becoming a root cause for a range of medical, social and development issues?

https://www.naturalproductsonline.co.uk/news/nutrition-news/quarter-primary-school-children-say-cheese-comes-plants/

“…children need to simply spend more time outdoors and learn from Nature not just about it…”

We believe that while technological advances and developments for a safer, cleaner, easier, more productive, creative and tolerant society are all firm goals we should all be working towards, we also know that we can not continue along our trajectory without providing a critical balance in the minds of our young children. This balance we seek is an affinity, appreciation, respect, connection and basic understanding of Nature and Earth’s eco-systems and how everything is connected to everything else. Basically we are saying that “children need to simply spend more time outdoors and learn from Nature not just about it!”. Looking at the state of the planet’s depleting resources, dying populations and species, destruction of rainforests, pollution and waste, surely any further progress in civilisation needs to be done better than how we have been doing it to date? And whose turn will it be to inherit all of these problems (no fault of their own), while relying on their own judgements, values, experiences and connectivity with the planet when they become guardians of influence in 20 years’ time – our “Nature-Deficit-Disordered” and “Containerised” preschoolers?!

Perhaps arising from our depleting natural resources, or our highest ever levels of consumption and waste by all 7 billion of us, or an irreversible set of recent actions causing destruction and devastation in parts of the planet, a realisation has come about across all industry sectors that certain clues and directions and even answers to our modern civilisation’s problems may already exist in our 4.6 billion year old Earth. After all, Earth has had all this time to constantly evolve and improve processes, develop complex networks for life to interconnect with and survive, adapt environments, test its resilience, perseverance, patience, and create innovative solutions. So why wouldn’t we want to follow its lead in education, like the engineers, surgeons, architects, agriculturalists, nutritionists, scientists and product designers are currently “bio-mimicking” from billions of years of trials, errors and proven solutions (as shown above)?

OUR INSPIRATION

We became inspired to research into our Education industry and search for a similar connectivity in teaching and learning as various educational philosophies and approaches have done over the past 5000 years. In doing so over the last decade, creating four unique childcare centres, and receiving 12 national awards and recognition along our journey, we have gradually tested and blended the approaches of ancient cultures via story-telling techniques with more recent 60-100 year old theories of Reggio Emilia (Italy), Montessori (Italy), Waldorf (Germany), Pikler (Europe/USA), Forest movement (Denmark), and Friluftsliv (Scandinavia). What has emerged is a set of principles and delivery framework for educational and life-lesson outcomes for children and teachers that can be connected with Earth itself.

We call this the “Gaia (Earth) based Education Principle” and put concisely, we mean a full commitment to “Earth inspired buildings, environment, values, curriculum, and outcomes”. This “full spectrum” approach values all existing education philosophies, theories and approaches as mentioned above, and encourages to deepen teaching and learning where appropriate via visible connectivity, affiliation and reflection with Nature and Earth systems.

Our developed Sub-Principles over the past decade (alongside) serve as anchoring guides for what we believe is important for a life-long journey of learning, adaptation, development and growth for your child.

Our delivery framework mimics the Earth’s delivery system for life itself:

1) an external atmosphere (i.e. learning environment),

2) an internal grounded platform (i.e. day to day curriculum activities and outcomes), and

3) an inner core (i.e. core values that light up the passion deep inside our teachers and centres).

“I like the theory behind it all, so what does this all look like in practice for my child?”

With the guiding sub-principles and delivery framework (above), here is what we have been creating over the last 10 years in our centres to actually demonstrate what we mean by delivering the “full spectrum” of Gaia (Earth) inspired education.

This delivery mode is quite simply about fundamental decisions at the earliest outset when designing and bringing a vision of an ECE centre 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 surrounded by “living, breathing buildings”, with natural ventilation, natural lighting, solar energy, rainwater harvest, earth heating, recycling systems…

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 Nature/Earth. No-one does this better and more directly than over 5000 “forest preschools” around the world as shown alongside. Originating in Denmark in the 1950’s, there are a growing number of “farm”, “bush kindy” and “forest preschool” based ECE centres in NZ too, some of which are: Fiordland Kindergarten Nature Discovery, Roskill South Kindergarten,  Farm Friends, Whānau Manaaki Kindergarten Association, Te Papa’s Tai Tamariki, Birchville Kindergarten, Plimmerton Kindergarten, Old Macdonald’s Country Kindy, Sunshine Kindergarten, Southland Kindergarten Association, Play and Learn programmes and dozens of more schools who are part of the Enviro-schools programme.

This mode rests at the heart of it all – the Values of a centre 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, and they can reach a Gaia (Earth) inspired level when imagery and references are shown to children, 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’ dozens of years!!

The deepening of these outcomes and values (i.e. extending to Earthly connections of an educational philosophy or curriculum in any centre or school) is what Gaia (Earth) inspired education is all about. In addition to “core” and “external” delivery modes, it is also about those precious moments in time, when the grass-roots “internal” delivery of Gaia (Earth) based education is happening between a teacher and a child, that can be treasured, absorbed and taken with them throughout their life-long learning journey. With all the elements of the sub-principles and delivery modes in place, any centre can transform towards becoming a more sustainable, eco-friendly, nature aligned, and Gaia (Earth) inspired place of teaching and learning to achieve lifelong outcomes for children …. and create the kind of future guardianship of our planet that we are all hoping for.

Free Professional Development Workshops

We are planning to offer inspirational seminars to all parents and teachers and managers and business owners – free of charge. Come and hear our past, present and future story that has created the Gaia (Earth) based approach, presented by founders Dr Darius Singh and Nikeeta Singh. Let us take you on our journey and show you more examples and more precious moments of actual teaching and learning that can easily transform any childcare centre into a Gaia (Earth) inspired childcare centre.

  • When: 1st Saturday of each month (mid afternoon 2pm-3:30pm) from February 2019
  • Where: at one of our Gaia (Earth) inspired centres – Chrysalis Early Learning Centre, 1 Jomac Place, Avondale