What is the real difference between a natural learning environment and a conventional preschool? Humans can learn in all kinds of different settings and through all sorts of curriculum, so what does natural learning offer that other ways of learning might not?
Natural Learning is a way of seeing and approaching human development in a holistic and integrated way. We see each child (and adult for that matter) as an organism, as a being composed of an interconnected network of systems that function together in concert for the overall survival benefit of the whole person operating as part of an environment.
A natural learning perspective allows us to see that each and every experience biologically causes learning in many different areas simultaneously. Even when we try to separate out specific subjects, we are never only learning or experiencing one thing. Integrated, holistic learning is our most efficient and natural mode of growing.
We see children learning language and literacy from their own natural desire to communicate. Through rhythm and music, we hear the sounds of letters become intrinsically compelling. Writing is internally motivated. It is purposeful and meaningful to the author and springs naturally from wanting to being heard and acknowledged.
While children are dancing, they are also building mathematical reasoning, and dancing naturally fuels relationships with self and others.
Looking closer at how children learn allows us to see relationships everywhere. Bonds organically arise when kids are climbing together. They look out for each other and communicate verbally and non-verbally. They help each other, and often we hear them saying to their friends, “Are you okay?”
At the same time, climbing relies on the development of emotional regulation, large and fine motor muscle growth, as well as spatial reasoning.
Taking care of oneself inspires taking care of others, and the feelings that arise out of caring for friends, both human and non-human, naturally expands our ability and desire to be contributing and affecting members of the environment that brings us so much joy, fulfillment, and benefit.
Embracing a natural learning perspective allows us to value the learning potential in each and every experience. Climbing, building a bug catcher, or pouring a cup of tea all build the neural networks responsible for planning an experiment and testing a hypothesis.
While those same body structures allow for the ability to decide what adventure the kids want to go on today. As they hope to inspire others to go on that adventure with them, they draw, write, speak, or gesture to communicate their desires. We see a great deal of negotiation and emotional expression skills honed in this enterprise, as well.
Even experiences which might otherwise be categorized as “undesirable” like hitting, throwing, yelling, and pushing, are seen as serving very real and valuable purposes for whole body natural learning.
The teacher’s contributions to the success of natural learning, then, depends on our interaction, response, and support for not only those experiences that appear valuable to us, but possibly even more important, how we involve ourselves in activities that we read as negative, harmful, or pointless.
Natural learning seeks to honor what already exists naturally. The most difficult aspect of cultivating a natural learning environment becomes shifting our perspective as adults. We spend a great deal of energy simply unlearning the constraints and assumptions about learning that we, as teachers, may have ingested from our own educations.
Overall, natural whole body learning must embrace a sense of freedom as the fertile environment in which natural learning is allowed to thrive. This freedom, paired with a reasoned and accurate assessment of trust and security for the child, creates an infinite pool of rich, complex, and beautiful learning experiences.
When we are free to learn in this way, we are following the body’s natural formula for growing up happy, healthy, and fulfilled. We move holistically, become deeply connected to others, and are naturally integrated within our communities and our environment.