From May 15- 19, the Neohumanist Education Association hosted an exchange experience for 30 children from Gatehouse and Tynholm Scotland, to learn more about permaculture and experience Romanian traditions and agriculture. The project was part of the “Children in Permaculture” project, funded by Erasmus Plus.
Ana Racheleanu published an article about the experience in Green Report.
Youth In Permacultue (YIP) is a new initiative to support and empower young people to create resilient, fulfilling and fun lives inspired by permaculture. Didi represented AEN at the first visioning meeting in Spain with organisations from many different countries in Europe and beyond.
Encouraged by Children in Permaculture (CIP), young people involved in permaculture and leaders from the permaculture community gathered, creating a team from over eight countries to begin this exciting project.
We have a web page with resources, tools, opportunities, networks, youth projects and voices. We’ve begun the planning stage of organizing events, activities, workshops and exchange programs and will send out surveys to people interested in supporting this project. For more information visit www.youthinpermaculture.org
Sociocracy is an easy to learn, systematic process for facilitating group dynamics that encourages full participation, shared responsibility and greater efficiency in decision making. It is based on the idea that each of us has a valuable perspective, and that the best decisions find ways to include everyone in the process, thus drawing on the collective wisdom of the whole group. Sociocracy has been effectively utilized to run everything from international Erasmus projects, to eco-villages to an electric engineering company. Find out more here.
On May 14th, 19 school children aged 11-12 from the Gatehouse School in Scotland will be boarding an airplane to meet the children of Fountain of Hope Afterschool Center, in Panatau, Buzau county. The Romanian children will introduce the Scottish students to Romanian village life and have a chance to share their specialized knowledge about traditional agriculture and sustainable practices that has been forgotten about in countries used to industrialized agriculture. The exchange experience is organised on the Romanian level by Asociatia Educatie Neoumanista, one of 5 international partner organisations within the “Children in Permaculture” Project, an Erasmus plus Strategic Project financed by the EU.
The visiting children will have the opportunity to experience and appreciate the beautiful richness of Romanian rural life. This is all the more relevant at a time when many young people all over the world are leaving rural villages that have maintained a more sustainable eco-friendly lifestyle for hundreds of years and are migrating to industrialized cities. The exchange aims to help both the Romanian and Scottish children to value rural lifestyle. Permaculture is a design system that is inspired by traditional agricultural practices that respect nature, and is attracting a new, younger generation all over the world towards sustainable rural living. It is guided by three main ethics: People care, Earth care and Fair share. The Children in Permaculture project is designing curriculum, and practical resources to bring ecological education to life in schools and support the new generation in developing a holistic connection and deep love and appreciation for nature. This is essential for creating hopeful futures in face of increasing environmental crisis.
In October, the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) organized a conference for early childhood professionals with the theme “Early Childhood in Times of Rapid Change” that took place this October in Vilnius, Lithuania. The conference explored four main strands – Meaningful Learning for Children, Meaningful Preparation for the Workforce, Meaningful Support for Families, Meaningful Use of Technology. The conference sought to address the experience of rapid changes facing societies around the world, bringing together experts, researchers, practioners, policy makers and NGOs to discuss these themes in a variety of interactive sessions. There was a particular emphasis on the refugee crisis and several presentations shared strategies on addressing the needs of children and families affected by displacement and the traumas of war, natural disasters or economic crisis.
I was invited to present two Neohumanist Education projects: The “Pathways to Education” project for Syrian refugee children run by AMURT Lebanon, and the “We all have a Story” project promoting inclusivity in early childhood education that took place in Romania. I was able to participate, thanks to support from the Zonnelicht school. It was an excellent opportunity for Neohumanist Education approaches to gain visibility amongst leaders in the field, as well as to learn about innovative new developments in ECE and create new networking connections with like-minded organizations and people. A Dutch organization was particularly interested in exploring collaborations in working with refugees. Connections were also made for developing further projects in the integration of severely marginalized Roma communities.
A new term that was repeatedly used in the conference was “Generation Touch” referring to the impact of touch screen technology on children who are growing up in a world where they expect every object to perform like a screen, responding instantaneously to touch. This phenomenon was explored in several of the presentations I attended. Generally, there was a consensus that technology should scaffold and support, rather than replace other types of educational interventions, and that its use should be very limited in the earliest years of a child’s life, as it can affect neurological development. In her keynote speech, Professor Liz Goodman who teaches “Inclusive Design” in Dublin, also described innovations in the use of technology to support the inclusion of special needs children, such as an innovation that allows paralyzed people to move a mouse with their eye movements. She talked about how technology can assist in personalization of services as “one size fits one”.
I particularly enjoyed a lively peer debate on the appropriate use of technology in early childhood education. I was expecting to listen to a panel of experts debating the pros and cons of technology, so I was quite taken aback when I walked in through the door and the moderator asked me whether I was for or against the use of technology in Early Childhood education – I answered “It depends…” but we had to all choose a stand and then go through a formal debate process. I ended up on the anti-tech side and argued that the most important piece of technology we must teach children to master is our own body, heart and mind. However, in reality – I recognized that technology is very difficult to avoid, and it is simply a fact that we must learn to deal with in appropriate ways. Another conclusion that was also mentioned several times in the course of the conference, is that the increase in screen time, needs to be balanced by increased conscientious attention on developing empathy and relationships.
Another keynote presentation, by Nicholas Burnett, introduced the Lancet Series, which Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale. The journal is a prestigious medical and scientific journal, which has gathered evidence to quantify the impact of early childhood education. The study shows that “children who are not nurtured properly in the early years may forfeit a quarter of their earning capacity as adults. The Series provides a roadmap to successful interventions in early childhood, along with evidence that such interventions contribute directly to ending extreme poverty, boosting shared prosperity, promoting healthy lives and learning, reducing inequalities, and maintaining peaceful societies.” The findings from the Lancet series emphasize “‘nurturing care’, especially for children below three years of age: multi-sectoral interventions starting with health – which can make a profound impact on families and young children through health and nutrition.” Dr. Burnett made a comparison with climate change – that a change in our individual behavior will not to seem to have any impact in the short term, but unless we take actions now, we will all be in much worse problems in the future.
Indeed, the Lancet series evidence has already proven useful in convincing policy makers to include investments in Early Childhood Education as part of the UN Millenium Development Goals and on more local levels. The conference concluded with the screening of a new documentary video “The Beginning of Life” which similarly can be very useful in supporting efforts to convince parents, policy makers etc about the importance of investing in early childhood education.
Children in Permaculture is a 3-year project funded through Erasmus+ Key Action 2: School Education. The partnership is across 5 countries: UK, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Italy.
CiP is an innovative project of international cooperation bringing together key educators (from different schools, nurseries, practices and countries) in order to cross-fertilise, share and synthesise ideas, which will strengthen the capacities of all involved.
This international exchange will develop, test, adapt and implement practices in permaculture education with children. It will:
develop a permaculture curriculum suitable for children
create well designed materials for educators
collect and create an open education resource
foster a cohesive society through learning with people from other countries and cooperation between formal and informal education settings
share best practice and new perspectives on designing kindergartens and schools, and promote better outdoor learning experiences for children.
Eric Jacobsen is the founder and director of a model Neohumanist Education school in Long Island, New York. Over the course of 15 years, he has been interviewing students who graduated from the Progressive School of Long Island to discover the impact of the Neohumanist “character-based education” on their long term development.
Their responses have been compiled, revealing a clear pattern. There are 13 character qualities that these young people, now in high-school, college and beyond, consistently report observing both in themselves, and in their peers from Progressive School. Although these qualities may exist in others too, they are seen with amazing frequency and to a high degree in those who benefited from the Neohumanist educational foundation. Eric calls these qualities “intangible gains” because they are not easily quantified. Yet they are the engine that drives academic and personal growth.
The Gradinita Rasarit kindergarten was started in 1995 – so it has had its 20th anniversary in 2015!
The program is the first one in Romania to be inspired by Neohumanist Education philosophy and we are working on creating a new educational alternative based on this experience. Here is a photo album of some of the activities from the past year!
In our increasingly sophisticated and technologically driven world, many children are primarily exposed to discovering the world through the screen of a tablet, TV or computer. They become habituated to these highly concentrated doses of information and their young minds readily adapt and crave greater and greater stimulation. It is then no wonder that it becomes difficult for them to sit quietly, to have long periods of concentrated attention. We adults complain that ADHD has reached epidemic proportions, yet if we observe ourselves, many of us have become accustomed to being constantly available on our cell-phones, filling up the spaces of our lives while we wait in line, drive in the car, or go for a walk with checking email, messenger, Facebook, or making calls. How much calm, quiet spaciousness do we grant our own minds? How much do we flit rapidly from task to task?
Mindful time in nature is both antidote and medicine for this condition. The natural world operates in spontaneous harmony with its Divine source and thus exudes peace, beauty and truth from its very essence. Poets and artists throughout the ages find metaphor and inspiration in the natural world as it is a pure mirror of subtle, spiritual truth. Only human beings have the ability to choose consciously whether or not to act in harmony with their Divine nature or to ignore it. The rest of Nature is on auto-pilot. As a zen teacher I heard speak once said, “Human beings are number one bad animal because human beings don’t know what human being’s job is.”