LIVING LEARNING -
THE FARM AS A PEDAGOGICAL RESOURCE
At the Section for Teaching and
Teacher Education at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences we work on
building bridges between farm and garden activities and the schools of
general education. Our initial project, “Living School”, from 1996 to
2000, took its point of departure from the question: “How can we
contribute to fostering hope, courage and resolve in children in order for
them to be able to participate in a productive way in the forming of their
surroundings?” More concretely, the goal was to create pedagogical
“provinces” in which a committed, caring and continuous work with nature
could occur to enable an enduring experience of connection and belonging.
“Green care” is thus seen at our institute as essential for building
health in children, as a prerequisite for learning.
This is in accordance with one of the most basic tenets of the theory of salutogenesis in the work of Antonovsky (1997), which states that one important premise for the development of sound health is to be found in the experience of coherence. This is to be understood not only as an experience of, and insight into, the origins of objects in our daily lives, but also an experience of being able to contribute to and affect the connections surrounding us. Such as the researcher of early child development, Martin Dornes (1993), writes: “Not only joy in bodily activity and play, but also the joy of discovery and the feeling of being able to effect and understand meaningful relationships in the world are central motives from the beginning of life.”
CHARACTERISTIC ASPECTS OF MODERN CHILDHOOD
When we make an attempt to experience today´s world in Western countries through the eyes of a child, we can easily understand that they meet a complex, fragmented and confusing structure in daily life. Milk comes in cartons, fish in rectangular boxes, heating from floors or vents, furniture and building materials from delivery trucks and clothes from fashionable shops. Insight into how food is produced in nature, where textiles and building materials come from or how inside temperature is created is removed from their experience. In addition most children see their parents disappear each day to unknown places and activities, at the same time as they themselves are placed within the four walls of childcare institutions, many first at only a few months of age. In spite of early access to the world-wide-web, children are in a large degree cut off from participation and understanding of the basic tenets for daily life. Such a bird’s eye view of childhood makes plausible the fact that Richard Louv (2005) includes in his book The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder: Pre-school children are the largest growing consumer group on the market for anti-depressive medicines in USA today.
How children's health is affected by their environment is seen clearly in the increase of both psychological and physical illnesses such as asthma and allergies, anorexia and bulimia, obesity and diabetes, hyperactivity (ADHD or ADD) and dyslexia (reading disability), to name the most frequent. The rapid acceleration of such health problems rules out genetic causes and demands a reassessment of the conditions for childhood. Amount of time indoors, time spent in passive activity, the lack of free movement and play outdoors are factors which have been identified, whereas the lack of transparency of, and occasion to contribute to, daily life have not yet become issues in the public consciousness. As professor of pedagogy, Tom Tiller, asks in his book, which came out in Norway (2003), Is it not possible that children are tired at school and lack interest in learning because they lack a meaningful context for their learning and see neither how things are connected to each other nor how they themselves can make any difference?
WHAT CAN FARMS AND GARDENS CONTRIBUTE?
Through our courses with farms and schools we see the effects of repeated work-periods at the farm. The farm work provides “meaningful contexts” where the children are motivated to learn through practical experience that sheds light on the origin of products in their daily life. Concrete tasks give them insight into ecological connections and man’s place in nature. Development of manual dexterity strengthens the foundation for learning in all subjects, at the same time as they learn to cooperate and solve problems as they arrive. The children or youth can learn with their bodies and senses, which is not only the basis for enduring memory, but is also essential for physical health. Outside in nature they connect to other living organisms - a prerequisite for stewardship and engagement in environmental issues. As a leading American educator, David Sobel (1996), writes: “One takes care of what one loves.” When children feel their contribution to caring for animals or plants is needed, it reinforces their identity and gives them self-confidence.
All these aspects and many more apply in even greater degree for the increasing number of pupils who are “losers” at schools. The children with diagnoses, with concentration problems or psychological crises are perhaps those who need what farms and farmers can give them most of all. Many children today cannot be in classes without personal assistants and daily medication. The school, not the health authorities, has the responsibility for these pupils, but cannot offer them adequate alternatives within the four walls of the school. Farms can offer an arena which can fulfil the obligation of the school to meet the needs of the child.
THE CONTINUATION OF THE WORK BETWEEN FARMS AND SCHOOLS IN NORWAY
After the initial pioneer
project, “Living School”, which was supported by the Departments of
Education, Agriculture, Culture and Environment with 1 million euro, the
work has continued mostly in the form of accredited courses given in
different regions of the country. While the project succeeded in producing
examples of school gardens (eight schools) and school-farm cooperation (eight
farms) in pilot projects scattered throughout Norway, there was a need to
develop regional models which were rooted in local communities. At the
present time there are parallel courses in several regions, and the demand
for courses is more than can be complied with. The courses are supported
by the regional agriculture authorities, and the national development
agency for rural projects, Innovation Norway, provides funding for farms
in trial periods and for capital investments. A number of local
governments see the farm-school cooperation as a way to ensure population
stability in vulnerable regions. By experiencing a connectedness in the
local community during school age, the authorities hope that more people
will wish to move back after finishing their education other places.