Learn how Sharing Nature training serves educators and discover the school that is almost perfect.
The Three Pillars
Over more than four decades of Sharing Nature training, participants have reported profound, often life-changing experiences. These experiences could not have happened without the three fundamental aspects of our training. You could call them the three pillars on which this training stands. These are: Nature, Play and Emotions. When we remove any one of these, we find that Sharing Nature cannot exist.
In 1984, biologist Edward Wilson wrote a book on human connection with Nature that went on to win two Pulitzer prizes. In “Biophilia,” he proposes that humans have an innate and subconscious tendency to seek connections with Nature to such an extent that “our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents.” If we consider just one factor – the duration of time humans have held that connection with Nature, it is not difficult to see why we continue to long for it admist our present state of disconnection.
While cities have existed for thousands of years, it is only in the last hundred years that a significantly large share of humanity began to converge there. Evolutionary biologists of our time hold that humans evolved from chimpanzees and that the split occurred around five to seven million years ago. If we condense five million years into a five hour long film, our urban life would appear in just the last one-third of a second. In the entire duration, you would see humans living in vast open lands, a clear sky, surrounded by Nature or natural things, getting food and water not far from where they live, working outdoors, breathing in clean air filled with pollen from grasses and flowers, and dependent on the elements.
If we slow down the last third of a second of the film, we would find humans living in confined spaces with man-made structures where Nature is scarce. We move around in machines of steel and rubber run by a substance extracted from deep underground and shipped across the world. We consume food that we know is rich in toxic chemicals but have no knowledge of its origin, inhale air with full knowledge that it is unfit to breathe, and work indoors surrounded by four walls and a ceiling.
“We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”
– Pope Francis, The Encyclical
Crucially, the world in that third of a second encapsulates our entire existence in our minds. We have no conscious memory of our connection with Nature during the five hours. We consider ourselves separate and independent entities believing that we have earned everything in our lives while we forget that the air, water, and food we require for sustenance are all gifts from Nature. We have not earned sunlight, photosynthesis, the hydrological cycle, atmospheric circulation, pollination or any of the innumerable natural processes that make life possible on Earth. Yet while thinking of ourselves as separate, we forget how utterly tied we are with Nature.
In his 2005 book Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to highlight rising behavioural problems in humans, especially children, who spend a lot of time indoors. To us, the term doesn’t sound just right. It’s not that we need to spend more time outdoors – we are designed for outdoors. It’s where we belong. Confining ourselves indoors is an aberration in Nature as much as it is to confine birds or animals to a zoo.
“We know that the world is supposed to be much more beautiful than what’s been offered to us as normal. A feeling like, we can do better than this… We want to get out of here but we don’t know how. And people feel trapped. Trapped in their jobs, trapped in their in their lives, trapped in just the society around around us.”
— Charles Eisenstein, author of “Sacred Economics” and “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible”
Kimi Werner is a U.S. National Spearfishing Champion who grew up in a home surrounded by Nature with no paved roads or neighbours around, in a remote shore on the Hawaiian island of Maui. As a young child she helped out by gathering food from her surrounding environment; she collected chicken eggs and picked salad greens, but her favourite form of foraging was diving into the ocean with her father and to watch him collect “dinner” – fishes of various kinds, octopuses, lobsters – almost every day. When her family moved to the suburbs, her connection with Nature was severed, something that was to affect her for the rest of her life. Later she understood the deep disconnect with Nature that people in the cities experience without even realising it.
“A hundred years ago, when eating a meal, there was a basic understanding of where the food came from, whether you helped in the harvest or knew the source,” Kimi explains. “Having knowledge of where your food came from elicits a connection to that source. Without that, you are depriving yourself of a beautiful satisfaction.”
At the height of her career, with multiple championship titles, world records, and sponsors under her belt, Kimi Werner left the world of competitive sport to pursue her childhood passion of spearfishing without the pressures of winning everytime. Like Kimi, there is an increasing number of people who are questioning their lifestyle choices, acknowledging an emptiness inside, leaving their comfort zone to search for meaning in Nature. And discovering a deep rapport with Nature.
“Inside is our storage place, but outside is actually our home.”
– Kate, age 8, who lived in the Yokon wilderness of Canada for nine months with her parents and two siblings, without electricity even when temperatures plummeted to -50°C. A project conceived by their artist mother Suzanne Crocker, they left clocks and watches behind, as a conscious decision to reconnect.
At Sharing Nature India we dream of a day when every school will realise that humans are connected with Nature and provides its students the opportunity to experience the connection. A time when Nature is viewed not only as a subject to be studied and analysed, as one would study a machine or components of a system. When Nature serves not as a source of thrill or as an entity that is separate from us but when Nature is felt and understood as an inherent part of our being. We will showcase one such school later in this section, but first, the importance of play.
The elements of deep play are essential to an engrossing experience of nature. The attributes of deep play are: being fully in the moment; experiencing a sense of timelessness; feeling deep rapport with the focus of play (e.g., elation at seeing geese emerge from the fog, gratitude for the woodlands exquisite beauty), and having a diminished consciousness of self. Learning requires keen attention. Self-forgetfulness and deep receptivity—hallmarks of deep play—enable us to apply our entire being to the task at hand.
Play is inner-directed and self-rewarding. Because the player’s will and energy are completely committed—not divided by and preoccupied with external pressure or convention—the player experiences an exhilarating sense of wholeness.
Why don’t our schools recognize the power of play in learning? The founder of the Living Wisdom Schools, Michael Deranja, a colleague and friend, once visited a public school class of kindergarteners, then afterwards, a class of high school students. The five-year-olds were full of joy and zest for learning. The teenagers, unfortunately, were bored and listless. Feeling compassionate concern at their indifference, Michael asked himself, “Where did their joy in learning go?”
A spirit of play is intrinsic to every human being. Play —propelled by the players own drive and enthusiasm — is, by its very nature, a perfect antidote to apathy. Many older children and adults today are play-deprived; play could help them reconnect with their innate wonder and spontaneity.
Our motivation for play comes from within; from play comes inventiveness, joy, and connectedness with the focus of play that can keep us curious and creatively engaged throughout our adult lives.
In an interview to a news reporter in 1929, Einstein said he considered himself an artist and declared that imagination is more important than knowledge. “Knowledge is limited,” he said. “Imagination encircles the world.” Imagination is a product of emotion. Merely knowledge, analysis or logical reasoning does not naturally lead to a rich imagination. It is when emotions take flight that we begin to imagine.
Yet most of our efforts in classroom teaching are focused on accumulation of knowledge and building of cognitive skills while affective skills that pertain to emotional development of the learner do not get as much attention. This is also true about how we evaluate students. We elaborate on this topic in our section on the importance of emotions in learning.
In his book Sharing Nature with Children, Joseph Cornell speaks of an important ingredient of good teaching – that a sense of joy should permeate the experience. In a joyful atmosphere, everything you teach becomes attractive to your students. In order to communicate with a sense a joy, a teacher must herself feel joyous inside.
However, teaching today is a stressful occupation. It requires a delicate dance, an endeavour to strive for balance between, on the one hand, engaging student interest in the subject and on the other, delivering academic results. Those in early education may have to deal with aggression that a child may bring to the school from domestic issues. Teachers that have special children in class and those teaching classes with teenage children may have to work even harder.
Then there is the exercise of evaluation that some describe as a mind-numbing monotony. In such a scenario how does a teacher as an individual stay inspired? Where does she fill that reservoir of joy from which to draw in everyday situations? Sharing Nature training can help. The benefits of the training are the same for teachers-as-individuals as they are for everyone.
Find Yourself Rejuvenated and Inspired
There is now overwhelming research to show that spending time in Nature brings physiological and psychological benefits. A recent meta-study from University of East Anglia involving more than 290 million people, compared 140 past studies to state that spending time in Nature reduces the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth while also reducing blood pressure, heart rate and stress and increasing sleep duration.
Sharing Nature training, however, goes much further than just spending time in Nature, as it involves deep nature play. The key distinguishing factor is the quality and level of engagement that makes you feel one with Nature and brings out those positive emotional reactions. Leaving you with a deeply memorable experience that you can tap at any time just by closing your eyes and recalling it at will.
Discover Feelings You Didn’t Know Exist In You
Sharing Nature allows participants to emotionally bond with Nature. In various activities, a player sometimes acts out an animal, interviews a river, pretends to be part of a tree, and captures an image of a beautiful landscape through her inner lens – one she will remember for years. Other activities allow the player to reflect upon and express in writing some of the emotions she experienced.
Acting out in ways dictated not by logic but according to feelings, she finds that her inner child is not just acknowledged, but is encouraged. As the player experiences, acts out, reflects upon and shares these emotions – a previously unrecognised aspect of the individual finds expression for the first time and remains with her long after the training has culminated.
Have Fun, Touch Your Inner Child Through Play
If you’re like most adults, you’re probably play-deprived. In Deep Nature Play Joseph Cornell writes about how adults benefit from play:
Some adults feel that sensory awareness games are solely for children. I’ve been amused to see how parents, at the beginning of family programs, will gently push their children toward me, then themselves stand at the back, their arms folded across their chests. When I tell the parents that I need them to partner with their children to play a game, they are more than eager to help. Immediately, the adults are playing just as enthusiastically as the children. All of us, no matter our age, can benefit from joyful, living contact with the earth. Playful nature games help teens and adults experience life with a child’s natural exuberance, and reconnect us with the innocence and joy of our own childhoods.
Learn to Nurture Your Right Brain
While the left side of the brain views the world as separate, fragmented, in an abstract and narrow manner, the right side sees the interconnections, the holistic view, the big picture, and things laden with meaning. Where left brain is analytical, acquisitive, literal and detached; the right is engaged, empathetic, receptive, and intuitive. Control and manipulation is associated with the left while opening up to the possibilities is associated with the right brain.
As we describe in the section titled “The Shift”, human society and economy has been built on left brain skills but increasingly those skills are not sufficient for success and there is a clear societal trend towards right brain values. Sharing Nature activities can help you prepare for this new recognition by developing right brain qualities.
As the training emphasises emotions and generates a feeling of oneness with Nature, we naturally tend to gravitate from the fragmented towards the whole. All games and activities are non-competitive, and there is no analysis or study involved so left brain application is kept to the minimum. But there is a lot of beauty, sensory stimulation and a feeling of love and appreciation, all of which nurture the right brain aspects of player’s personality.
Discover a Completely New Way of Relating with Nature
We have all experienced Nature in various ways such as, hikes, walks, adventure activities and perhaps more. While all of these experiences can be enjoyable, the relationship they foster with Nature is one between observer and the object being observed. There is a clear separation between the two. At Sharing Nature we try to bridge this gap through play that makes the player become one with Nature.
“If you want to motivate people, first touch their hearts, because it is their feelings that will inspire their thoughts and behavior,”
– Legendary naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.
While in traditional activities such as river rafting Nature serves as a source of thrill and gives one a sense of exhilaration through a feeling of domination, Sharing Nature considers Nature as a living entity. Our activities focus on emotions or feelings of the participant. All tasks or challenges in our games are designed to help adults and children deepen their relationship with Nature through unique ways of emotionally connecting with Nature.
Improve Relationship With Your Child or Loved One
In his book Deep Nature Play, Joseph Cornell describes how a simple sensory awareness game allowed his friend to help her 73-year-old grandmother ailing from Alzheimer’s disease find relief for the first time in several years. Because Sharing Nature games are fun and engaging, they provide an opportunity to improve strained relationships between parent-child and between loved ones. Once you’re able to overcome initial reluctance on your part on part of the person you wish to involve, both parties will discover creation of a joyful new bond as they engage in play.
Sharing Nature training offers inspired and joyful learning experiences that makes ecology—not just a concept—but a life-changing awareness. We teach ecology creatively and make science an experience. The training inspires teachers personally, and provides them with the tools and techniques to make learning fun, experiential and memorable. Many of the benefits to participants – such as impact on imagination and creativity, memory and cognition, increase in attention span and more – are described in section: Why Attend.
Our workshops will train participants in a teaching method that can be adapted to teach any subject using experiential learning. It is essentially a sequence of activities discovered by Sharing Nature founder Joseph Cornell that accelerates flow of inspiration.
This highly effective outdoor learning strategy called Flow Learning™, was featured by the U.S. National Park Service as one of five recommended learning theories, along with the work of Maria Montessori, Howard Gardner, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. Flow Learning is described here in greater detail.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
– L.R. Knost, author of The Gentle Parent
The term intelligence has been variously defined through ages. In education, an idea that has recently gained prominence is Theory of Multiple Intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner. Gardner had proposed eight types of intelligences and later added another type. Mainstream education has been criticised for focusing on only one or two types of intelligences. If we consider Sharing Nature training, we find that it serves all types, barring perhaps logical-mathematical intelligence.
The Forest School in Tekos
There are no year levels in this school. There are no textbooks. Since no classes are held, there are no periods or recess. In fact, there are hardly any teachers. There is no tuition fee either. Maintenance staff is non-existent as well nor is there any other kind of staff – no cooks in school kitchen and no warden in the hostel.
Yet, over 300 students live in this boarding school and finish the entire high school curriculum in just one or two years. These are ordinary students, not child prodigies. The school does not conduct IQ tests while admitting the students. This school is state recognised and state funded.
This little known educational experiment has been running successfully since 1994 and is now being replicated elsewhere. Known as The Forest School of Tekos or The Schetinin School, it is located in southern Russia in Krasdonar region near the Baltic sea. The most distinguishing feature of the school geographically is its location. Surrounded by lush green forests on all sides with no city in its vicinity, it has Tekos river running by its side. The nearest town of Gelendzhik is 36 km away.
Students in the forest school are treated as adults. They are given full responsibility for learning as well as running the school. Students teach each other in “laboratories” – small groups of mixed ages with 5-8 members in each group. Ranging from 8 to 20 years in age, they study only one subject at a time, usually for a week and a half. However they ensure that these single subject sessions are adequately interspersed with right brain activities such as art, music, sports etc.
“You need to choose between training man for himself or training him for others.”
– Jean Jacques Rousseau in his book ‘Emile’
The students create their own textbooks based on their interest. And also manage the school, its administration, cook meals, and conduct all activities required for its proper functioning. Even the design and construction of school buildings is carried out entirely by students themselves.
“We do not have students as such. Everyone is a teacher or expert. Students actually create manuals and tutorials. These textbooks we use as system for development of the kids themselves, because in the future Russian school textbooks will be done by the students. Thus everyone is a researcher at our school. We pay special attention to stories, folk dance, folk singing, folk crafts and folk Russian martial art which is not based on aggression, but on love “.
– Mikhail Schetinin, principal
Founder Mikhail Petrovich Schetinin, considered by some as “a remarkable educational visionary” of our time learned early on the need for a holistic approach in education which involves using both sides of the brain to equal extent. His first two attempts of combining art, dance, music and sport with secondary school education did not materialise the results he had hoped. It was the third experiment at Tekos, in which he applied the ideas of educational theorist Anton Makarenko, that was to turn out to be a stupendous success.
Schetinin does not encourage idealising his method, insisting it is not the method that is important but the purpose for which it is pursued – raising man who lives in harmony with Nature and with the society. “Man who, when he sees and analyses the phenomena of life which surround him, can feel their interconnection, can perceive the world as a whole,” he says. “And no matter what he becomes – an engineer, physicist, chemist, builder, teacher etc. – he will understand that he is going out into a whole, complete, unified world!”
“Before I came here, I had no real appreciation of Nature. But they showed me what it is and connected me with it. I got immersed in Nature here and now I fully understand what it’s all about. The school promotes this connection. Our daily schedule always includes time devoted to contact with Nature. Every morning, summer or winter, we run to the stream and bathe. This might seem a bit scary or strange, but it really strengthens you, helps you alive and stimulates your thought.”
– a student, featured in the film ‘The Kin School of Tekos, Russia’ embedded above
It is clear that the school cherishes the human connect with Nature and provides students with ample opportunity to experience the connection. Students at the Tekos school feel and understand that Nature is an inherent part of our being. This ‘knowing‘ becomes a fundamental part of the child’s worldview, fulfilling the purpose of education as described by Mikhail Schetinin above.
Information in English language about the forest school of Tekos is sparse. One good resource is a 2017 book “EDUSHIFTS: The Future of Education is now” that documents innovations in education around the world. An entire chapter is devoted to the Schetinin school including a brief history of the Russian educational tradition, Anton Makarenko’s secret, Mikhail Schetinin’s background, and a glimpse into the learning methods employed at the school. The book is available for download on EDUshifts website.
The school accepts visitors with prior permission. Contact:
M.Shchetinin Training Center
5, ul. Lesnaya, Tekos, Gelendzhik,
Krasnodar Territory 353384 (86141) tel/fax 9-20-62