Nature study in NZ: a teacher’s reflections on historical approaches

In a recent issue of Education Today, Bill Clarkson, a veteran teacher and environmental educator, wrote about nature study in New Zealand and reviewed some of the pioneering literature which influenced how nature study was taught in New Zealand. These books include “New Zealand Nature Study” by W. Martin (1947) and “Nature Study: handbook for teachers”, by D. Beggs (1966). [Click here to read the full article.]Both books advocate learning through direct experience, and Clarkson suggests that the principles outlined in these books are just as relevant today, and compatible with the contemporary approach of “inquiry learning”.

He concludes: “I believe educationalists today should be providing opportunities for children to make a real learning connection with the natural world. New Zealand children should learn and know about the indigenous plants, animals, habitats and eco-systems of their own country and their own local environment as a first priority. Environmental education should also primarily involve first-hand experience in which the child’s full sensory, emotional and intellectual powers of observation and interpretation may be applied to the actual reality of living things in their natural setting.”

I would further argue that this extends to learning about the environmental history of a child’s local environment – and this was precisely the topic of conversation with two long-time science and environmental educators (both ex-school teachers, but now leading academics in environment and science), Professor Bruce Clarkson and Dr Alison Campbell, Waikato University (see Alison’s bioblog post about this discussion).

I certainly hope that children growing up today will have a much better understanding of their natural – or indeed built – environment, including its environment history, than I did growing up (see: The city of hidden lagoons: Palmerston (of the north)).

Photo: School children (from Denniston School?), and teacher, during a nature lesson, Denniston Incline, West Coast. Photograph taken circa 1945 by John Pascoe. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. ID 1/4-001332-F

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