Interview with Heike Freire

Heike Freire is an expert in pedagogical innovation and a writer. Her research on the relationship between health, well-being and learning in nature has made her a reference point for Green Pedagogy, an educational approach she has been developing since the 1990s. She is the author of Educar en verde. Ideas para acercar a niños y niñas a la naturaleza e ¿Hiperactividad y déficit de atención? Otra forma de prevenir y abordar el problema.

Heike, can you tell us what you understand by green pedagogy?

Green Pedagogy includes a set of concepts, ideas and strategies, whose effectiveness has been widely demonstrated, to accompany the development and learning of children and young people, in harmony with natural processes. For me, pedagogy is not exclusively a set of methods and techniques to get children and young people to learn and integrate better in society, but rather a way of understanding the human being that materializes in a project with some principles and values. That has a meaning, a reason. Viktor Frankl said that whoever has a «why» can withstand any “how”.

Why is contact with nature so important?

Nature is essential for our species, especially in childhood but also in other stages of life, because it is the medium from which we have emerged and in which we have developed over hundreds of thousands of years. Our bodies are perfectly prepared to grow optimally in that environment. Since the 90s, Environmental Psychology has not failed to verify, in numerous experiments, the benefits of the natural world for the health, welfare, development and learning of children and young people. At a time when most people suffer from a deficit of nature, it is even more important and necessary, if possible.

To benefit from these advantages, is it enough just go out to the countryside?

Obviously not. Contact with nature is a way of being, of living and relating to other living beings. With the urbanization of the minds and the periphery of the cities, we can perfectly be in an idyllic place, completely closed. It is also not enough to go into nature once in a while. A more daily relationship is necessary.

What do you think about the use and abuse of screens?

Personally, I have come to the conclusion that exposure to screens should be minimized, especially for 12 to 14-year-olds. But fulfilling this goal is very difficult for most families and often the insistence of parents is counterproductive. Therefore, the healthiest option is to achieve a more rational use.

Do you think that experiencing nature can itself promote an ecological conscience or should it be deliberately promoted?

Research shows that the childhood of people with greater ecological awareness is characterized by intense and frequent experiences of contact with the natural world in the company of an adult (usually a family member) a lover of nature, who has conveyed to them the love of life and those values ​​not through discourses but through example.

Therefore, I would say that experiencing nature is a necessary condition, but not enough.

In addition, we have to understand the ecological conscience as a way of being and existing in the world, not just as content, certain behaviors or attitudes. If we can talk about ecological awareness, it is because there is an enti-ecological form of consciousness,  cut off from the environment and egotistical, which is promoted by today’s society. To expand ecological awareness it is necessary to educate others and ourselves; to create a new culture.

What are the activities with nature that seem richer and more interesting for young adults (18-25 years old)?

It would be necessary to know a little more about these people, what are their characteristics, their authentic needs and desires, what experiences they have had. Some modern sociologists advise extending adolescence to 23 or 24 years, as it is very likely that they still have some of the tasks and activities of that stage, whose main objective is to integrate into a group from the respect and development of their own identity:

– Carry out group meetings in the natural environment that allow them to get to know themselves and each other better, while developing conversation and relationship skills, team building and teamwork, and survival skills.

– Take on challenges and build projects based on your own desires and experiences. Some of these challenges can work as nucleus experiences and rites of passage into adulthood.

– Work the imagination as it is the main tool to start creating your own life in the real world.

– Get involved in environmental care tasks (reforestation, cleaning of the environment, work in farms, in orchards, programs to promote recycling, reuse, repair, etc.).

– Take part as activists in campaigns for the defense of the environment.

*  Part of this interview is based on the one that Almudena García made for Ludus.org.es