Decolonizing the Curriculum Through Land-Based Learning
“The land knows you, even when you are lost” ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
Land-based learning is a seemingly simple concept. At its core, it involves taking students outside to engage in activities in nature. Due to its uncomplicated approach to education, land-based learning can be misunderstood or judged as antithetical to “real work” that is done in the classroom. However, what is often overlooked is the profound impact that land-based learning can have on the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of students, and how it has the potential to completely transform the learning experience.
What is land-based learning & how do we use it?
As an Indigenous person in an Indigenous education program, I have done a lot of thinking on the topic of land-based learning and what it means to meaningfully incorporate it into a teaching practice. Students have much to learn from the natural world, but it can feel challenging to incorporate especially if you yourself have not spent a lot of time learning from the land. Incorporating land-based learning in a meaningful way goes beyond just blocking off time to go outside; it means paying close attention to your students' explorations and using it to guide inquiries and discussions.
It is important to note that not all land-based education programs have an Indigenous focus, but I believe that it is always important to acknowledge Indigenous wisdom when discussing land-based practices. Indigenous people have a profound relationship with the land, and by recognizing this you are placing value on the knowledge that has often been forgotten and overlooked within education. As said by Anderson, Comay, & Chiarotto (2017), “Indigenous people know through doing, and through embodying a relationship to place” (p. 84). It is through our relationships that we build and share our knowledge.
Land-based learning with an Indigenized approach goes beyond engaging in simple activities outside (although that is an important part of it as well). It encourages students to inquire about the land, to ask questions about the natural processes that they are observing, and to think deeply about the world around them. Moreover, it teaches students about having respect and responsibility for the land. Anderson et al. (2017) acknowledge, “There is widespread agreement that to love nature you need to spend lots of time in it, and studies have shown powerful connections between childhood experiences in nature and the subsequent development of environmental consciousness and concern” (p. 67). Another amazing aspect about land-based learning is that it has the ability to transform the concept of ‘teacher’ from an adult in charge to the student at the centre of their own learning who is able to direct their own inquiry and ask questions that are meaningful to them.
Why is land-based learning important?
Learning is a complex experience, and most teachers know that it is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation. In my own time as a student, I really benefited from having the opportunity to explore different learning styles to discover what worked best for me. Land-based experiential learning was a favourite of mine because I was able to see the relevance of my learning in the real world. Lots of students love this kind of learning for that reason, and because it can help them to understand the curriculum content in a new way. In addition to this, land-based learning impacts physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and can help with community building and connectedness.
Land-based learning is also a crucial step to decolonizing education systems because it places value and respect on Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Something I was taught is that the land (Mother Earth) is our first teacher, and through her we can learn everything we need to know about life. Asking our students to think about what the land can teach them, empowers them to develop their own connections and encourages them to take care of the natural world. Although these things can be taught in the classroom, it is amazing how much our perspective can change when our learning space is transformed.
Guest Writer: Samantha Murdoch-Rock, B.A., Embodied Learnings Director and Indigenous Education Lead. Want to know more about her work? Read here!
Anderson, D., Comay, J., Chiarotto, L. (2017). Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: A Resource for Educators: Considering Indigenous Perspectives in Children's Environmental Inquiry. The Laboratory School at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study.