Inspirations for Curriculum Building

by Lucie Bardos (MRP intern)

A couple of weekIMG_0041s ago, we had a visionary guest speaker come through Guelph and inspire us at Many Rivers Permaculture with his unique approach to education. Jon Young is the creator of the Art of Mentoring and the 8 Shields Institute, two bodies which specialize in training mentors and educators in guiding and inspiring “children with eyes that sparkle”. It seems like a synchronicity that he should pass through just as we are setting out to create a curriculum for the permaculture-based youth camp we are planning.

With the soft-spoken, kind, and confident voice of one who has been working in his field for over 25 years, Jon spoke about the roots of what he calls “Coyote Mentoring”. Coyotes are tricksters, he says, they hide profound teachings of nature connection and leadership behind play and exploration. The only way that children can have “eyes that sparkle” – that is, glow with enthusiasm about life, family, nature and discovery is if we learn to walk that fine line between holding on and letting go. All too often we hold on far too much. Jon spoke about how adults need to learn to trust each other and let go of the idea that the nuclear family is enough to satisfy every child’s need for mentorship and support; all children need aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas and cousins. This doesn’t mean they need to be blood relatives, simply trusted fellow humans that are physically and spiritually present. Also, “helicopter parenting” is a big no no. Yes, children require leadership and some structure as well, but children absolutely need unstructured playtime in nature in order to tune into their own ways of connecting with the world and to establish their own dialogue with objects and beings they interact and come into contact with.

IMG_2147The basis of Jon’s method is, in case you haven’t guessed, cultivating a deep sense of nature connection. And of course, there is no way that we can foster this in our children if we don’t foster it in adults and elders first. Nature connection is something that all of our ancestors had – what Jon refers to as “the spirit of the village”: the ability to feel connected to ourselves, to our purpose, to feel at peace with those around us and with the rest of nature. He reminded us that while this is largely a journey of ideas, it must also be one of the body; we cannot simply think about our connection to nature and to our community, we must live this connection physically as well, and this means consciously changing or modifying some of our behavioural patterns.

One inspiring example of these teachings being put into practice is the Mother Earth School in Portland Oregon. A very interesting podcast interview with founder Kelly Hogan can be found here. Mother Earth School is an 8-Shields-based outdoor education school, which takes place on a permaculture demonstration site with access to zone 5 forest wilderness. What I particularly liked about Kelly’s approach is the focus on embodied storytelling. As a mentor and educator Kelly uses her creativity to tell stories, which hold within them specific lessons and techniques that we can learn from nature; such as “dear ears”, “owl eyes”, “breeze whispers”, and “fox walk”. She incorporates these first into the stories she tells her students and later into forest outings based on the stories, so that children can embody and put into practice the techniques they heard about. This engages their imagination and helps create what she calls a “balanced sensory experience” which equips young people to deal in a more peaceful, holistic and understanding way with the imbalances facing the world, such as climate change and ecological degradation.

DSC01503_2_2When asked what her curriculum consists of Kelly often gets uncomfortable because, as she explains: “it’s a living curriculum, it’s emergent – it’s never the same”. I think that this is an important lesson for us as curriculum creators: modelling a curriculum on natural cycles means that as permaculturists and transition enthusiasts we have to respond creatively to change, use local resources already in place, and be open to feedback. This in turn means that we should not box ourselves in when creating a curriculum and allow nature and her systems to guide us. In practice this may mean that we have to look beyond standard curriculum models of knowledge being imparted upon students, but rather search for games and activities that create a co-learning and co-teaching environment and ask ourselves: what do the participants already know? What can they teach us? How can we encourage and foster that “sparkle” or that creativity and leadership that is already there? How can they help us create the curriculum? It may also mean looking to our elders – perhaps not just in age but in experience – such as the founders of the Guelph Outdoor School or nature-based camp leaders (such as those working at CELP or Headwaters in Guelph) and asking them to share their stories with us.

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When Kelly Hogan gets asked what she wants the children to leave her program knowing, she replies: “I want them to know that they have the power to heal; to heal themselves, and to heal each other, and to heal the world…. we don’ t talk about how big and scary the world is, we talk about how little and beautiful the world is.” To me, this is a take home foundational statement for curriculum builders; it is an approach that should be cultivated as being empowering for youth. The truth is that there are a lot of big and scary things going on in the world, but if those future stewards of the Earth have a personal intimate connection with nature and know that they have the power to heal and to make a difference, then we will have done our job.

About the author: Hello all! My name is Lucie and I’m so happy to be partnering with Paul from Many Rivers Permaculture for this internship. I am currently working on completing my masters degree in Human Ecology: Culture, Power and Sustainability from Lund University in Sweden. We are studying global flows of energy and power and how these large scale elements interact with smaller, local scale communities of both people and non-human nature. My personal interests lie within permaculture (both ecological and social) and transitioning to viably sustainable and abundance-based paradigms and systems. I think that Guelph is a great place to be for someone with my interests thanks to its vibrant transition towns initiative and its many organizations and individuals committed to sustainable living. I can’t wait to write about the exciting projects that Many Rivers Permaculture is involved in and communicating these stories through their blog

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