Tag Archive: ecology


nature playHere’s a final extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. This piece reflects on how as adults we are in danger of losing our ability to play and that this is part of a wider disconnect between humans (especially children) and the natural world about us:

‘One of the nicest things about the human race is our abiding juvenility….We’re fun; we’re funny. There is probably no species, not even chimps or wolves, in which there is as much behavioural congruence between adults and children.

Yet how ‘unfun’ we’ve gotten! Biking has gone pro; it is to be performed seriously (exhaustingly!) and properly attired. Even taking a walk has been transformed into walking – stylishly, with striped sweats and weighted mannerisms, to the purpose of fitness- and without an eye for what might be of interest along the way. In an article I read about dismantling playgrounds and abandoning school recess, a principal was quoted on the subject of improving academic performance. ” You can’t do that”, he said, “by having kids hanging on monkey bars.”…’

Coincidentally I’ve just come an interesting review of a new book about children, learning, play and nature. Here’s a quote from that:

‘Children play, and used to play ‘in nature’, outdoors. To some extent they still do, but probably not nearly enough. We inhibit their explorations, creativity, and self-testing. And the same goes for adults.’

You might like to take a look at the review here: ‘Learning with Nature and the Nature of Play’

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series of extracts. I certainly found the book very stimulating and am currently enjoying Stein’s follow up to ‘Noah’s Garden’, all about natural plant communities and the like.

Old School Gardener

Picture: Free digital photos.net

Picture: Free digital photos.net

Here’s another extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she reflects on how adolescence for many is not a transition to adulthood, but an increasingly inward-looking culture of it’s own:

‘We have experienced an emphatic turning of children towards their peers. We have seen the emergence of idols not yet beyond their teens. We watch our children withdraw into other worlds along the malls and behind computer screens where we don’t – and they don’t let us – follow.

This is taking a great leap into the unprovable, but I would guess that the interminable stage of life we call adoloscence is, in fact, a halting of development in cultures where childhood endeavor is not rewarded by adulthood as children imagined it would be.’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

community parkHere’s my sixth extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she talks about the decline of communities where people (including children) feel that they belong and experience a sense of common purpose:

‘Several times I’ve run into an interesting statistic in the books I read: the people we count as friends- those with whom we comfortably share meals and other forms of visiting- number no more than 150 (and usually fewer)…we seem to be biologically limited to a smallish circle of those whom we can know in a more familiar sense and who we feel know us. The number is about the upper limit of any group that can be sustained by a hunting/gathering economy and not much less than can be sustained by a subistence farming community.

So it may be that, in addition to the fact that residents of a tract development or a block of apartment houses are not assembled in common purpose, the sheer scale of the community may stand in the way of our sense of belonging to it. We seem to realize the importance of social scale for children when we call for smaller classes and smaller schools within the neighbourhood. The trend to gated communities, neighborhood gardens, pocket parks, and local streets closed to traffic indicate our urge to safely congregate where we can consult the social mirror. But for many of us, and possibly for most, the urge is thwarted or was extinguished before it had much chance to grow.

Aware of that difficulty, many have proposed that we teach community and family values in school. The proposal is as hopeless as teaching children what an apple tree is without their experiencing the tree or instructing them on how to fish without going fishing. A sense of community is absorbed through experience of the actual community, just as family values are incorporated within the actual family. So we are left with our good nature flapping raggedly without the pole that once lifted it aloft, and we are lonely…’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

vineMy fifth extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein challenges some notions of what education should be about for young children. She compares the needs of these ‘tinies’ with those of wandering vines…

‘Most vines…germinate, grow tendrils, and wave about (clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the species) until they engage support. Then…they climb upward toward the light, where, in sunlit maturity, they are able to bloom and fruit….Random exploration is essential to fulfillment of the vine’s biological program. So are the wanderings of children….

…you have experienced the wanderings of a child, and how it feels when what you have come upon suddenly makes sense. First, you wander the kames and kettles, kick sand and sink in mud, climb up and down the abruptly steep terrain, find fringed gentians, suffer poison ivy: then you reach for the fabulous coherence of glacial geography. Nothing is wrong with formal education except that we have got it backward. Children need experiences to make sense of before what we teach them can make sense. In this view, education is not something imposed from outside, but arises in children’s need for adults to arrange coherently the chaos of their perceptions.’

snow sledgingI’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

cooking_with_childrenHere’s my fourth extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she reflects on how we seem to have increasingly excluded children from working alongside adults, and by cossetting or trying to protect them from harm, can delay (prevent?) their passage into adulthood:

‘In our and other cultures, formal education begins at age six. During the following six years, roughly corresponding to elementary school, sons and daughters were traditionally expected to learn not only what in the environment was there to be used, but also how to use it. At the age of twelve, they were expected to be ready to pass from childhood to membership in the adult culture. Although we still mark that passage ritually in ceremonies of bar mitzvah and confirmation, I say these are empty passages now, and I am being very serious:

Children who can’t obtain, produce, nourish, maintain, earn, or in any other way be of use to their family remain juvenile compared to their peers in other cultures and in former times. They don’t deserve to be kept useless, and they don’t like it, and they show by their behaviour toward their elders that they blame us for swaddling them in childish ignorance.

Dessert can wait. It comes at the end of the day, and there is work yrt to do.’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

hand-in-mudHere’s my third extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she urges us to create ‘wild’ places for children to explore and enjoy in their own backyards…

‘Girls and boys come out to play! But they will not unless we summon them with the piper’s tune of mud and rushes, not sprinklers mechanically circling an uninhabited lawn.

I want a word and cannot find it. What is the opposite of tame?

If our children are to grow up at home in their environment, in appreciation that its sharing among other lives is essential to our own life and livelihood, and with the intelligence to wisely manage it, we must wild the land.’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

richmond-pk-denOld School Gardener

toysHere’s my second extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she observes how American (probably western) culture has increasingly divorced children from directly finding things they need or are interested in; things that children used to find outside in the natural world:

‘Our culture makes the point that much of what most interests children is not obtainable by them. It’s our cotton balls and cinnamon sticks, not their free-for-the-gathering furry mullein leaves or minty wintergreen. What rolls or smears or makes a noise when it is squeezed is a truck we’ve bought, a set of finger paints, a stuffed animal- not the log or mud or toad that children might obtain for themselves. They can’t even get some berries for their breakfast unless we buy the fruit.’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

child supermarketI’ve recently read the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. You’ll possibly know from my previous posts about children’s play that I’m interested in how we can improve the opportunities for a more ‘natural’ outdoor play experience in our increasingly urbanised, consumerised and technology- dominated world.

I found Stein’s book a stimulating read, which examines a variety of reasons why children in general these days have less opportunity to engage with the natural world in ways that nurture a responsible and intimate relationship with it (as well as raising wider child development issues), so I thought over the next few weeks I’d feature a few extracts. In the first, Stein sets out the basis of the book:

‘Land is nourished or not by humans; humans are nourished or not by land. Place and occupant only seem seprable because we have created such a distance between liveliness and livelihood. In creating that distance, we have unwittingly detached the nature of childhood from the sense it ought to make. Childish curiosity is to make connections, to realize the larger picture, to become able in the physical environment our lives depend on. We’ve removed the red from the fruit, the fruit from the tree, the tree from the wood, the wood from all the things a child might make of it, and so left fragments much harder to connect than laces on a shoe.’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

'Wild Gardens' have a different kind of attractiveness - and value- to those that are more actively 'gardened'
‘Wild Gardens’ have a different kind of attractiveness – and value- to those that are more actively ‘gardened’

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating, beautifully written book about taking a more ecological approach to gardening: ‘Noah’s Garden’ by Sara Stein. Set in the suburbs of the USA, she describes how she ‘unbecame’ a gardener and developed her plot into somewhere that bore a closer resemblance to the native surrounding countryside. In short ‘restoring the ecology of our own back yards.’

I have her sequel, ‘Planting Noah’s Garden’ and another book called ‘Noah’s Children’ ready for my summer holiday reading! The latter is about ‘restoring the ecology of childhood’, and I’m especially looking forward to reading this because of my interest in designing and promoting ‘natural play’ spaces. Stein wrote these all about 15 years ago, but they still seem very relevant today (Stein passed away in 2005).

I’m left wondering if and how far the principles she advocates can and should be applied to somewhere like the UK. Here the climate has – at least up to now- enabled us to grow a very wide range of plants, and so has given us the chance to grow more ‘exotics’ than  many other places around the globe. Arguably this resulted in a diluting, if not replacement of a ‘native environment’ hundreds of years ago, especially from the foreign travels of the ‘plant hunters’ and the subsequent importation of exotic species, as well as the devleopment of new, hybridised forms.

I guess the principle of gardeners working with nature, acting as ‘managers of the environment’ not ‘controllers’ (or worse still, having no concern for the wider impacts of what we plant, construct or remove in our gardens), is still very valid, and we should always have regard to the impact of our planting on the wider environment – in terms of the wildlife habitats and food sources it provides, for example.

Sara Stein

Sara Stein

I was especially taken with Stein’s suggestion in the last few pages of ‘Noah’s Garden’:

‘Let’s imagine a goal: that at some time in the future, the value of a property will be perceived in part according to its value to wildlife. A property hedged with fruiting shrubs will be worth more than one bordered by Forsythia. One with dry-stone walls that provide passageways for chipmunks will be valued higher than one whose walls are cemented stone. Buyers will place a premium on lots that provide summer flowers and fall crops of seed. Perhaps there will be formal incentives; tax abatements geared to the number of native species; deductions for lots that require neither sprays nor sprinklers. A nursery colony of bats might be considered a capital improvement. There could be bonuses for birdhouses.

Oh, brave new world!’…

Well, in the UK the arrival of energy efficiency ratings for houses is perhaps a step in this direction? Maybe we should encourage ‘Garden Ratings’ too?

Old School Gardener

‘Earth Hour 2013, 8:30 PM Saturday 23 March. Earth Hour has grown from a one-city initiative in 2007 to the world’s largest campaign for the planet, uniting hundreds of millions of people across 7001 cities and towns in 152 countries and territories.

The official 2013 video features the track “Without You” by David Guetta and Usher, providing an upbeat soundtrack to match the celebration of this year’s event across the world. Earth Hour’s mission is to unite people to protect the planet, so go beyond the hour and upload your I Will If You Will challenge to http://www.YouTube.com/EarthHour. Dare the World to Save the Planet.’

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