Archive for January 6th, 2014

January 6, 2014

David Sobel, the Father of Place-based Education, is Coming to Phipps!

by Melissa Harding

“What’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it, before being asked to heal its wounds.”
– David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education

You may not know the name David Sobel, but you are probably familiar with his work. The author of Place-Based Education and Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, among other notable works, Sobel writes about the importance of outdoor learning, developmentally-appropriate environmental curriculum and place-based education. Long before Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods and coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder”, David Sobel was writing and speaking about the importance of helping children connect to and love the natural world. He is often called “the father of place-based education” and his work has inspired countless other writers and educators over the last several decades to “reclaim the heart of nature education”.

As part of the Inspire Speaker Series, co-hosted by Green Building Alliance (GBA) and Phipps, David Sobel will be speaking at Phipps Conservatory the evening of January 16th at 5:30 pm on How Schools and Community Institutions Can Utilize the Surrounding Community to Enhance Education and Engage Our Youth. He will then be teaching the following day alongside GBA and Phipps staff in a workshop for school administrators on integrating these principles at their own schools, as part of the Green Ribbon Schools program.

All that aside, you may wondering what he means by “place-based education” or “developmentally-appropriate curriculum”. These two ideas are connected and form the base of Sobel’s writing. Sobel believes that we should be helping children to engage in the plants, animals and character of their own neighborhoods and regions. He defines place-based education as “the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum”. Rather than using a tropical plant to teach about flowers, why not using a native plant? Why not learn about landforms using local topography instead of pictures from a text book? Sobel writes that getting education back to a hands-on, real-world learning experience that uses examples from students’ own lives is the key to helping them develop stronger ties to the community and the environment. By getting kids out in the their neighborhoods and bringing the neighborhood and its leaders into the classroom, we can create a new generation of active and engaged citizens.

In relation to the idea of place-based education, Sobel also writes about teaching children topics that are appropriate to their age and development. In environmental education, there is a tendency to teach young children about great tragedies like rainforest destruction and global warming rather than about animals and plants they can see around their school. This doom and gloom approach to environmental education often creates a fear so great that it can turn into dissociation; children would rather be totally disconnected from the world than face its complex and frightening problems. In order to create engaged citizens who will eventually solve these problems, we need to start on a more basic level.

Creating an attitude of love and wonder towards the natural world in young children and encouraging exploration in middle years creates older children who are capable of taking action against problems rather than retreating from them. Sobel recommends three separate phases of education based on development and age; in early years, activities should center on enhancing the development of empathy with the natural world; in middle childhood, focus on exploration; in early adolescence, social action should take precedence. In this way, children build a foundation to care for the earth as well as learn about its problems in a way that does not overwhelm them.

These two connected ideas, teaching children in a developmentally appropriate way about their local, and eventually global, environments is a model for success. Sobel’s ideas and teachings have been widely implemented in both formal and non-formal education settings, creating a clear and real change in how children learn about the environment.

Read our recent post about Sobel’s latest article in Orion Magazine, Look, Don’t Touch: The Problem with Environmental Education. (And our Director of Science Education and Research, Molly Steinwald’s, photography was featured in the print edition–as well as the cover of his most recent edition of Beyond Ecophobia!)

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply Sobel’s ideas to your own life and work, join us at Phipps on January 16th, 5:30-8:30pm for our Inspire Speaker Series. Learn more and register online at Green Building Alliance. Refreshments will be provided.

The top image was provided by the Green Building Alliance and bottom image by Molly Steinwald.

January 6, 2014

Amazing Art From One of Our High School Interns!

by Melissa Harding

 Will Grimm, one of last year’s summer high school interns and a current member of From the Ground Up, just shared with us his latest art project using repurposed items. Using only used food packaging items, Will cut 15, 552 strips to use as fiber, attaching them to a rug backing to create this 3′ x 4′ rug. He also says that the finished product is surprisingly soft on the feet.  Just goes to show that repurposed art can be beautiful AND functional!

Thanks to Will for sending us these great pictures of his work. We can’t wait to see what he will do next!



The above photos were taken by Will Grimm.


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