What is home?

The current political climate is encouraging people to retreat into their comfort zones, to reject the foreign or unknown, so it may seem odd to be promoting an ideology that looks to the local. However, being connected to our own place can make us more mindful of land in general and the wider community of life of which we are part. Rather than putting up social and mental walls it can help us to orientate ourselves in the world and give us the courage and insight to change it.

Creative Place-Based Environmental Education, published this November, shows how schools can create spaces for students to grow into the world, engaging them through curiosity and work, interest and participation, resistance and enjoyment. In so doing, schools become creative hubs enriching the community, caring for nature, the landscape and place. The book draws on over twenty years of action-research by educators in Aurland, Sognafjord, Norway, and with the University of Life Sciences, Norway.

This hands-on approach embraces the whole locality as an inspiring educational resource. Design tools for developing place-based educational curricula are made globally relevant, with case studies from Norway, Ruskin Mill, Britain and Tanzania, and demonstrates that anchoring school curricula in place fosters creativity, co-operation, environmental awareness and integrity, while using the resources of place promotes learning, change and creativity between school and community.

In his foreword, Douglas Forell Hulmes speaks movingly about his experience of meeting the authors of Creative Place-Based Environmental Education. 

The book is written with engaging stories, clear examples, interlaced with educational theory and practical suggestions and questions of what to consider when planning a program that may occur in drastically different settings and circumstances. Examples of other place-based programs are described that occur in National Parks in Great Britain, and in the traditional Maasai regions of Tanzania.

Throughout the world there is a growing trend towards nationalism and a reluctance to think globally. Due to climatic change, sea level will rise, displacing large populations of people who will need to be relocated. At the same time, education is focusing on national and global standards that may or may not focus on what needs to be learned and understood if we are to work towards a more sustainable future and a people who also have learned what it means to belong. I believe this book can provide a common ground between educational standards coming from the top, to information, experience, wisdom and creativity that comes from the local and regional environments.

I have visited Aurland and the Sogn Jord Haggebruksskule many times with my students. I consider their project to be one of the most exciting and comprehensive place-based programs that I have encountered. I can visualize the thematic gardens raised by the children, the farm where the older students milk the goats and learn how to care for the animals, the local school, community and landscape, which no doubt influences a biased perspective. One of my challenges in writing the foreword is how I can possibly capture in words the emotions I have experienced with the landscape and cultural connection that I have experienced by being there. I deeply understand what the authors are attempting to explain, and I personally enjoyed the dance between theory, curriculum, and story. I believe the uniqueness of this book is the interface and intertwining of theory, practice and place that involves asking significant questions related to place-based sustainability, agriculture and education. For me, it also focuses on:

1.  What is Home?
2.  How can learning how local foods are grown and produced help people discover what does it mean to belong?
3.  How do teachers get students to care?

Creative Place-based Environmental Education: Children and Schools as Ecopreneurs for Change, by Jorunn Barane, Aksel Hugo, Morten Clemetsen, foreword by Douglas Forell Hulmes.