Reflections, provocations and wonderings – December 2018

Share to Social:

Cultivating ecological sensibility: a holiday project

Karen Szydlik – REAIE Professional Learning Coordinator

What will you be doing over the summer holidays?

This morning I saw a 3-year-old on a walk with his mum, he was stopped in his tracks, bent down close to the ground, turning a piece of black timber over and over in his fingers, inquiring, looking, feeling. I marvelled at his focus and presence to this object from nature and to this moment.

On my return home there was a Facebook post from an REAIE committee member, quoting her young daughter:

6:30 am – “Mummy, you have to come & have a look at the sky, it’s so beautiful! I think the sky is saying happy birthday to me (last week). That will always remind me of my birthday.”

Both these vignettes speak to me of relationship and connection to the environment. They also speak of ‘ecological sensibility’.

The first principle in Indications from Reggio Emilia says “Each child, individually and in relation with the group, possesses an ecological sensibility towards others and towards the environment, and constructs experiences to which he or she is capable of giving sense and meaning” (Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, 2010, p10). I find the term ecological sensibility, a slippery one. I know that ecological sensibility goes beyond ‘caring for the environment’ and ‘sustainability’ and I recognise it in the stories of the children above. I also recognise it in images.

In these images I see the capacity in children for being with… connecting to… inquiring into…wondering… seeking meaning…

What then is our role as the adults in these experiences?

And how do I nurture my children’s and my own ecological sensibility?

In my own childhood I can also find examples of connection – wading through creek beds, staring at starlit skies, feeling the sand between my toes, all experiences that opened me to rich imaginative moments and embodied oneness with the world.

Rodman coined the phrase ecological sensibility and said that the term refers to the cultivation of a “complex pattern of perceptions, attitudes, and judgements which, if fully developed, would constitute a disposition to appropriate conduct (including ecologically appropriate conduct) that would make talk of rights and duties unnecessary under normal conditions” (Rodman, quoted in Fox, 1990, in de Silva, 1998).

Cultivation, complex, conduct.

When I remember those children of this morning with their blackened timber and rainbow in the sky, I am reminded of my own daughter who, at the age of four started each day with ‘Good morning birds, good morning trees’ and a little later, on walks to school we were always late as she stopped to investigate each leaf and stone and feather. Was she born feeling connected?

In all these vignettes, I see ecological sensibility: connection, relationship, interdependence; and I know my own ecological sensibility needs nurturing.

My project for the summer holidays will be to quench my own thirst for ecological sensibility – it has been a long time between drinks and I am a little parched…perhaps you will find time to cultivate yours too.



de Silva P. (1998). Ecological Sensibility and Pedagogy. In Environmental Philosophy and Ethics in Buddhism. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. (2010). Indications Preschools and Infant toddler Centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. Reggio Emilia; Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia.

Share to Social:

Leave a Reply