It’s widely believed, and has been spoken by many, that anything is interesting; one must simply look close enough. It’s similar to the idea that questions rarely lead to answers, merely more questions. Both sentiments are at the crux of environmental education; explore, examine and dig deeper. All lead to greater discovery, inner-connectivity and subsequent stewardship.
Human interaction is a crucial facet of environmental education. Much like nature, or any subject, get to know a person well enough, and soon they’re no longer people, but rather an individual with his/her/their own feelings and experiences. All humans are guilty of grouping and categorizing people. Such detachment is what allows us to move our own agenda forward. It is equally important, however, to instill in young people strategies for connecting with others and building relationships. In the end, it’s by working together that we will build a greater future for everyone. Teamwork is key.
It is the role of an educator to build opportunities for student interaction and meaningful exchange. How to have a mutually beneficial conversation that enables people to connect and have empathy is an evolving skill that takes practice, consideration, motivation and reflection. Even most adults haven’t mastered this skill! Educators have the unique ability and responsibility to facilitate avenues for practice.
There are various tools/activities in environmental education that I have found particularly useful in bringing students together and prompting conversation.
Name Game: There are endless ways to bring a group together and share information, particularly a new group coming together for the first time. One particular activity involves having students come together in a circle and share something about their name. Perhaps a person was named after someone else, or a name can be translated to mean another word. Understanding a person’s name or why they were given that names can offer interesting insight into a person’s background.
Interview: Divide students into groups of two. Require each group to meet for ten minutes and share personal information with one another. Each student must learn at least three news things about the other person. Give an example by sharing with the group some information about yourself f. While the students are conversing, shout out some prompts (“Now discuss your favorite book and why”). After ten minutes, bring the students back together in a circle and ask each student to share what they learned about their partner.
Walk and Talk: Before walking somewhere, have students stand behind you and form two parallel lines. Each line should have an equal number of students if possible. First, have students high five the person directly across from them. Then pose a discussion topic (“While we walk, please discuss with the person across from you what your perfect weekend would be”). After a few minutes of allowing students to walk and talk, have the student at the front of the line on the right (or the left), move to the end of their line, forcing everyone to move up one position. Then have students high five the new person standing across from them, and deliver a new discussion topic. Go through as many rotations as time or attention allows. This activity is particularly effective on a wide trail, or during a long walk.
Personal Species Account Cards: Have students create species account cards for themselves. Information could include a drawn picture, both common and scientific name, place of origin, and three interesting facts (have fun with this!). Then give students a card of one of their peers to learn and present to the rest of the group.
Theses activities foster two important skills: listening and sharing. Such skills are necessary in developing empathy and bridging people together. Conversation is a lifelong practice and a mindful educator can help to begin pave the way!