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In 2005, American writer Richard Louv first introduced the concept of “nature-deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods. Sufferers of the disorder are not physiologically ill, but are so far removed from nature that they develop behavioral and psychological problems. As Louv proposed, natural education has emerged to fix the problem.
In recent years, China’s natural education has prospered. In its early days, it drew heavily on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of “natural man,” which focuses largely on freedom from restraint. But nowadays, as environmental problems worsen, natural education has shifted focus to coexisting as part of nature and aims to improve the ecology. Contemporary natural education promotes not only education “in” nature and “about” nature but also “for” nature.
“Firefly lanterns light my way to the moon,” wrote Li Muhe, a 10-year-old girl at Fongaia School. “Muhe used to just like to stay home and read,” reveals her mother. “Now, she likes to experience nature and finds beauty in everything she sees.” Gaia, the personification of earth in Greek myth, inspired the name of the school, Fongaia. Founded in 2014, the school of natural education is a subsidiary of Friends of Nature, an environmental NGO. Vice principal of Fongaia School, Zhang Meng, or “Winter Wheat” as she’s known at the school (everyone at the school adopts the name of a plant or animal), granted an exclusive interview to China Pictorial to talk about China’s natural education.
China Pictorial (CP): As a founder of Fongaia School, what made you decide to launch a school for natural education?
Zhang: I was volunteering for Friends of Nature to work on projects related to natural education. But without consistent funding, we couldn’t keep things going for long. In 2013, I had a chance to visit some of Japan’s schools of natural education. Japan has more than 30 years of experience in natural education and about 4,000 nature schools. Compared to us, they have a more mature and sustainable system.
I used to teach at a college. I have always believed education can make people change and grow. I have been volunteering for four years, in which time I participated in many activities and got more connected to nature, which changed me a lot and elevated my life. I knew I could do this well. In 2014, I decided to establish Fongaia School.