Biophilia: Learning the Language of Love for Living Things


“Konnichiwa” (こんばんは)

“Bonjour ce va”

“Dobraye ootro” (Доброе утро)

“Good morning, mommy.”

“Good morning, sun.”

My children humor me as I try to say good morning, which of course like many westerners I do not realize I am saying ‘good afternoon’ in Japanese. You see, my children want to learn different languages, so I  try to learn along with them.


In an article by Teresa Amabile and Steven K Kramer in the Harvard Business Review, they state “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. “

The power of a creative and meaningful education is found in the activities that help support the emotional development of children. This foundation is a kind of positive emotional feedback loop that brings with it an attachment to caregivers, educators, and parents. It also helps create a positive perception of learning that will help children to be motivated to make their work of learning a meaningful experience.

My children chose to learn words in French and Japanese this week, and I chose Russian. Our heritage includes Irish, Russian, German, Polish, and Czech roots, so I am intrigued by languages that find themselves in our family tree not to mention my recent viewing of Oliver’s Stone’s Putin Interviews.

Language learning in our house is really about getting to know the language on a sensory level, making meaningful progress with each new experience.

Sensory Learning

The sensory process of learning begins with noticing sounds, inflections, and tones. Paying attention to how your facial muscles change when you say different words or even your body language as you play with new dialects.

In vocal music training, we called this ear training. It is the same process. You have to involve all of your senses to understand a language and its meaning.

We read the articles that foreign language learning is important for students. Some studies explain the importance of learning more than one language. We understand that learning to listen to languages, allows you to learn another more quickly.

The Language of Nature

Learning the language of nature breeds a love of life or living systems, called biophilia. The term biophilia was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological sense of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. E.O. Wilson would later use the term to describe a connection that all humans subconsciously seek in his 1984 The Biophilia Hypothesis. Harvard University Press.

How do we connect with the language of nature? Educational theorists have noted the importance of nature connection for the developing child. The writings of Maria Montessori, Emilia Reggio, Rudolph Steiner and have all included nature in their curricula, even natural elements in school design.

But what about the language of nature? The rhythm, tone, pitch? Does it matter?

In Jon Young’s book, What the Robin Knows, he talks about backyard learning. The idea that the robin or in our case backyard chickens, or even the Canadian Geese we should soon hear overhead have much to teach us.

One of the challenges of connecting children with special needs to nature is that many programs see their challenges instead of their special gifts. They immediately think they need to alter the activities to accommodate their needs, when in reality what they should be informing the activities for all children.

I believe that we need to listen to the language of children in natural settings one on one to be in sync with them. It is like noticing the trails deer make as they make their way through parks and neighborhoods. Seeing the patterns of a child’s movement and attractions in nature can give you great insight into their needs for support.

It is the gift of sensory intuition that leads children sometimes to be frightened of a dark cloud, or awareness in a sudden change in temperature, or even the calls of birds underlies the same biological sense that helps wildlife navigate their surroundings.

All children need to be involved in eco-awareness programs and given the opportunity to speak its language. The sensory language of nature often most closely resembles the way children take in the world. Subtle changes in natural settings alert animals, yet most humans rarely notice. Children with heightened sensory systems can teach their caregivers so much, by just being allowed to be in nature in a safe setting.

It is children with increased sensitivities to ecological senses that can alert us to those subtle changes and even the needs of all humans in these spaces.

To begin a study of the language of nature, start with getting to know a place connecting with it on a regular basis. Many outdoor educators call this a sit spot, but for children that are always on the move, it might just need to be a space that allows them to feel comfortable sitting after periods of movement. A place that invites them to come in from the overactive urban senses, and breathe.


How To Begin a Language of Nature Study

One of the simplest ways is to add nature to your morning greetings which will become a habit, and something children will remember long into adulthood.

How do we celebrate life each morning? For young children, open the windows or curtains and say good morning to the sun. I have done this for as long as I can remember. I say good morning to my children one at a time, pull back the curtains and say good morning sun.

A connection to nature begins with awareness of its language, and greeting nature each day is a wonderful place to start.


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