We. Are. Nature

words and photos James MacDiarmid

Biophilia was first introduced by EO Wilson, an American biologist and refers to the notion that there is an instinctive bond, even urge to affiliate, between human beings and other living systems [1]. This urge has sustained our existence by empowering us to act-out our role in preserving and conserving for natural ecosystems.

In actively engaging with the natural world, daily, we teach children (and ourselves) to reflect on our symbiotic relationship with the environment. We need to allow children to develop their biophilia. Children tend to develop emotional attachments to what is familiar and comfortable for them. The more personal an experience with nature, the more environmentally concerned one becomes.

For me, it is precisely this awareness, this ecological conscience, which directs my choices in life and how I view it. At home we choose to live in a highly natural lit environment, we interiorly design our space with suitable indoor-living plants, we purposefully have wall-hanging artworks that are of bright colors that reflect/represent inspiring natural environments and experiences. Outside these four walls, I use this awareness to inspire my interactions, no matter how small. For example, it can be as simple as stopping to smell a flower, looking up to find the moon, listen for any new bird calls that may appear as each season comes and goes and stopping to watch a spider busily spin its geometrically perfect web. I also choose to exercise in an environment that has high levels of nature affordances.

Outside of the home, the classroom is perhaps the most influential environment in a young person’s life. Keeping in mind the fact that more happens in the first 10 years of life than in the rest of our lives, the basic architecture of the brain is set in the early years [2]. Therefore, we must never underestimate the influence an environment has on our children.

Here are some activities that you can do at home or at school, to assist in reimagining your place, purpose, and existence. Accompanying each activity is its related empirical evidence, which supports the purpose of the experience. These activities have been chosen to illustrate our natural affinity in wanting to feel connected to the natural world. They’re also ways to demonstrate how we can become more aware of our surroundings and ourselves. If we need more “green time”, we should act on it!

Activity 1: Picture perfect photos

Photo credit: Scott Ruzzene

Photo credit: Scott Ruzzene

Together with your children, write down a list that describes what you feel when you look at the two images on the previous page. View each image separate to the other and for no less than 30 seconds. Feel free to create your own visual cue cards.

Idea: Exposure to images of nature enhance our abilities to perform self-regulatory functions which are responsible for organizing and directing our thoughts, behavior patterns and emotional responses in a positive, pro-social, manner i.e. sustaining attention, inhibiting distractions and impulses, building resilience, valuing intrinsic aspirations rather than extrinsic [3].

Activity 2: Design by drawing

Ask your children to draw/design their favorite place.

Idea: Despite fewer opportunities for children to experience the outdoors, children consistently prefer natural environments. Numerous studies have documented that children’s preferred environments consist of at least some kind of natural element. As a case in point, 96% of children participating in such a study, who were asked to draw their favorite place, drew outdoor places [4]. Furthermore, despite children having more interactions with humans, 61% of the dream content of children between the ages of 3 and 5 is composed of animals [5].

Activity 3: Appreciating nature

With your children, go and explore a nearby natural space in the attempt to identify 3 important traits plants have to survive.

Idea: A young child’s concept of life and death is not the same as that of an adult. If a thing doesn’t move it is dead [6] and as the life of a plant is not visible to the human eye, for young children, this part of nature is not alive.

Activity 4: Audit and awareness

Conduct an audit of your own home or school setting noting the following physical characteristics, keeping in my mind the natural vs. unnatural and the benefit vs. detriment dichotomies:

  • Availability of toys and materials, including technology apparatus
  • Adequate space for privacy and exploration; high nature play affordances
  • Greenery
  • Natural light
  • “Views out”
  • Presence/use of bright colors
  • Natural habitats which encourage animal interaction
  • Access

Idea: The notion that nature plays a buffering role in protecting children from the brunt of life stress [7] has powerful implications for policy (in an educational context) and design (in any environmental setting).  Physical characteristics such as those mentioned above have been identified as protective factors/buffers against the adverse effects of stressors, such as moving home or schools.



[1]Wilson EO. (1984) Biophilia: The human bond with other species, Harvard University Press; Cambridge; MA.

[2] Zakhary GR. (2014) “This is your brain when you are playing”. A neuroscience perspective on play, Powerpoint Presentation, LEGO Foundation, Billund; Denmark.

[3] Kaplan S & Berman MG. (2010) “Directed Attention as a Common Resource for Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation”, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 43-57.

[4] Moore RC. (1986) Childhood’s domain, London; Croom Helm.

[5] Foulkes D. (1982)  Children’s Dreams: Longitudinal Studies. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

[6] Arcken MMV. (1990) “Nature Experience of 8-to-12-Year-Old Children”, Phenomenology + Pedagogy, vol. 86-94.

[7] Wells NM & Evans GW. (2003) “Nearby Nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children”, Environment and Behaviour, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 311-330.

Weinstein N, Przybylski AK, Ryan RM. (2009)  ‘Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity’, PSPB, vol. 35, no. 10, pp.1315-1329.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in For Parents and Teachers, Nature and Environment

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