This is what I wrote for my Doctoral oral exam (defence). The introduction to tell why nature matters to me … to situate my study of children’s’ engagement with nature in a kindergarten classroom in my personal experiences. .. I wrote it, I revised it, I read it, but finally I decided I can’t do it in my defence … Each time the memories made me cry … So I finally decided to write another introduction, still emotional, but more emphasis on the good memories … It’s Saturday night, I’m defending in 2 days and my 20 minutes talk for the defence is not finished yet … I’m still struggling with the “implications” of my study …
But I want to post that intro ,which I’m not going to do, here, tonight. A way to advocate for the importance of connecting our children with nature. So here it …
“Maman, man viram ye ghadami bezanam.” I left home for a walk in a small park close to our home. I was 18 and my brother was 19. He just left home to do his mandatory military service. My country had been in a 7-year war with Iraq and now, it was my brother’s turn to do his duty, to protect “our country”, us, from the enemy. It was the beginning of spring, warm and bright. The park was in full bloom. I thought, “Is the war going to end any time soon? What’s my brother going to do? Why are we in this war? What if he dies?” A blue bird sat on a low branch. I looked at her, what were some of her struggles? She seemed free and happy to me. I wished I were that bird.
I was 9 when revolution happened in my country, and when I started grade 7, an 8-year war between Iran and Iraq started. As a child, I saw people killing and were killed on the streets, on TV, on the newspapers, in our family get- togethers. New and unfamiliar children with dark faces from cities in the south of Iran came to my classroom. They told me they lost their homes, their friends, and their parents. We became friends hiding in an empty lot behind our school to talk about boys.
The war finished. My brother came back home. Together we went to Zomay to sit by the edge of the dessert. He stared at the ocean of sands that was surrounding us and said, “Nothings has changed here. It’s peaceful.” I looked at him and said, “Do you remember the rabbit that we trapped in that summer that you broke your arm here?” He smiled, “I was 7.” We lied down on our backs looking at the sky. I was happy that he came back.
I was never so angry in my life. How could they reject my application? “Your hijab is not meeting our Islamic rules.” Look at the liars that they hired instead of me. “maman, man miram rah beram.” I closed the door and left home. I needed my mountains to search for the meaning of my life, our lives. My mountains have been here for millions of years; they are powerful; they are wise. I feel (they tell me) I am a part of a bigger thing, a universe full of reasons and meanings to be discovered. I wish I were a mountain.
I AM CONNECTED TO NATURE, PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY, AND SPIRTUALLY.
When I reflect back, revisit my life, I know there is one thing, perhaps the only thing, that has empowered me, gave me visions, spirits, energy, faith, and love to continue, to not give up, to fight for my dignity and rights. The eco-psychology is informing us about the healing power of nature, but for me, nature becomes a symbol of determination, resiliency, abundance, serenity, and our shared wisdom and intelligences.
When I listen to other realities and being, I find the meaning of my life in the beauty of that blue bird, in the power of the never-ending desserts of Zomay, in the prosperity and grandeur of my mountains in Tehran.
Life in the 21st century Toronto will not be less challenging for Rauz and Shahrzad, my daughters. They will meet people who tell them their stories of war, injustice, discriminations, and poverty. They will see people sleeping on the streets of our Toronto. They will make friends with people who never experience a warm family meal. Living their stories and the stories of those that they will meet, there will moments that they look for deeper meaning in their lives. Today, when they are young, smart, and full of hope and dreams, today is the time for me to share my cultural and spiritual knowledge and experience with them. To hold their hands and re-discover the beauty, power, and wisdom of nature with them. To help them to define their own connection to nature. To imagine they are the birds, stars, flowers, clouds, sands, and rainbows. So, they will share their joy with a bird, ask the clouds for directions, and talk about their sadness with a river. In their journey, they won’t be alone.
So nature does matter to me, to my daughters, to us. Rachel Carson, John Dewey, Richard Louv, William Woodworth, Rumy, David Suzuky, and many of our thinkers are provoking us not to lose our connections with nature. A dynamic connection which each of us individually and collectively defines, develops, and revisits throughout her or his life.
I am an early childhood educator. I know many of our young children spend between 6 to 11 hours of their waking time in childcare centers and schools for 5 days a week. These educational settings play a crucial role in shaping and informing children’s engagement and experiences with nature. In his theory of biophilia, Edward O Wilson describes our innate affinity for the natural world. An affinity that can become weak or fade away if children lose their opportunities to directly experience nature, to listen to other realities and living forms, to grow in harmony with nature in its whole being, and to grow to be informed, responsible and caring citizens.
I am wondering as an early childhood teacher educator and researcher and teacher, how should I advocate for a holistic connection and poetic relationship with nature in a time that numbers and letters are covering the walls of classrooms and flash cards and work sheets are overcrowding teachers’ desks? I live in a socio-cultural context that continuously challenges educational programs and educators to assess and measure children’s “learning outcomes.” The politics of accountability forces our educational systems to test and quantify a process as complex as children’s learning in nature
Early childhood educators, practitioners, administrators, children and families are interacting with these socio-cultural and political contexts everyday. If I wish to advocate for children’s connection to the natural world in a school setting, I need to examine children’s learning experiences, the role of the teacher, and the curriculum to show the possibilities …