Forget Your Botany: Developing Children’s Sensibility to Nature Through Arts-based Environmental Education

Jan van Boeckel
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When we try to establish a bond between children and nature, we seem to be stuck with two major problems. One: the circumstance that conventional environmental education runs the risk of leading to despair and indifference, and two, the fact that many children have lost interest in nature because it is less exciting than the world of electronic illusions. We badly seem in need of innovative ways to awaken and nourish the supposed innate sensibility of children to the natural world.

It is here that exciting developments in the Nordic European countries can be of inspiration. Art is the key here. In the beginning of the 1990’s, a group of art educators in Finland, aware of the worsening ecological crisis in the society around them, began to look if art could come to help in the development of a more profound form of environmental education. According to Meri-Helga Mantere, who first coined the term “arts-based environmental education“ in 1992, it is a method that “supports fresh perception, the nearby, personal enjoyment and pleasure (and sometimes agony as well) of perceiving the world from the heart.” It aims at “an openness to sensitivity, new and personal ways to articulate and share one’s environmental experiences, which might be beautiful but also disgusting, peaceful but also threatening.” In short, aesthetic environmental education is grounded on the belief that sensitivity to the environment can be developed by artistic activities. Motivation to act for the good of the environment is based above all on positive and valued experiences which are often of an aesthetic nature. In the view of Mantere, these experiences can be generated by open and immediate contact with nature and the often new and fresh view of such phenomena that art provides. Arts subjects can develop a positive image for a way of life that conserves nature. This requires a great deal of inventiveness, joy and dignity.

Keywords: Art Education, Environmental Education, Senses, Perception, Ecology, Crisis, Children, Learning, Nature
Stream: Arts Education
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Forget your Botany

Jan van Boeckel

Researcher, University of Art and Design, UIAH

Jan van Boeckel has a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. Together with a filmmaking group he produced documentaries on indigenous peoples (e.g. The Earth is Crying, 1987; It’s Killing the Clouds’, 1992) and on philosophers critical of the dominant Western worldview, such as Jacques Ellul and Arne Naess.
Together with his partner and children, Jan has lived for several years in the forests of central Sweden. He was an art teacher to both children and adults in Hällefors.
Currently he resides in Amsterdam, where he is Head of Communications at the Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples (NCIV). He is a doctorate student at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, where he has just started a research project on the epistemological foundations of arts-based environmental education.

Ref: A06P0543