The perception of having a green or brown thumb may likely be a learned pattern of thinking that stems back to youth, not a just a genetic gift.  All humans are born with a tendency for a green thumb, with a naturalist intelligence.  It is an evolutionary survival tool or “a nature given intellectual culture and ability we all have in order to survive as human beings” (Young 3) according to Howard Gardner’s theories on the multiple intelligences.  Experiences accumulated in childhood are what define our future relationship with nature and divide our culture into green thumbs or brown thumbs or those with E.O. Wilson’s definition of biophilia (a love of nature) or David Orr’s definition of biophobia (a fear of nature).

Eunsook Hyun PhD., Early Childhood Education, presents theory on the idea of Gardner’s “naturalist intelligence” (Ecological 4) as explored in conjunction with its presence in an early childhood “sensitive period” (Ecological 11).  Hyun proposes that if the nature intelligence is not nurtured and “if the human environment does not provide a social-emotionally enriched and intellectually congruent support during the early childhood period [generally ages three to six], we may anticipate serious consequences regarding nature preservation which will negatively affect for all” (Young 5).   This research supports my own observation of nature detachment in modern children’s lives and supports my work to reconnect children with nature, creating happier children who will as adults be champions of environmental sustainability.

Hyun presents samples of brain research discoveries that exhibit that “the brain constantly changes its structure and function in response to external experiences-[or exhibits] plasticity” (Ecological 12).  This is important because it means that young brains exposed to nature in a regular and positive manner will unconsciously view their thumbs as green and those who experience nature in a negative manner or not at all would potentially, as adults, view their thumbs as brown.  It also proves that brown thumbs have the ability to become green thumbs later in life through nature remediation and the strengthening of the naturalist intelligence.   In addition, it is very important that adults who are around children are aware that “we may teach ‘feeling of fear’ or ‘keeping distance’ toward nature instead of promoting young children’s curiosity and inquiry to learn and care about nature” (Young 5).  These actions “may lead to either biophilia or biophobia depend[ing] on how adults respond to young children’s wondrous mind” (Young 5).  Keeping alive what Rachel Carson termed a child’s “sense of wonder” is crucial for blossoming a future society in which all members have green thumbs.

When experiencing nature with children, adults must constantly and consciously try to think like children.  They must enjoy nature for nature’s sake and see the beauty and potential in a rock or a stick.  “For young children, [the] natural environment is an everlasting and dynamic stimulator, because children perceive the natural world through their primary perceptions, which are based on their sensory-directed experiences…these primary perceptions are ‘bondings-to-the-earth’” (Ecological 8 )This sensitive period must be nurtured by providing appropriate activities for positive nature interaction especially throughout early childhood, and ideally should continue through pre-adolescence, to assure that adequate nature bonding occurs and the ecological brain develops properly.  The ecological brain’s appropriate development within the sensitive period for the naturalist intelligence will in turn facilitate green thumbs, or biolphilia, in the young children that they will then apply to their life choices.

This period is critical when regarding ease of assimilation of the naturalist intelligence.  “The interaction between the child and the natural environment is an authentic childhood experience across cultures that carries with [it] the original stamp of human biology that will disappear with its passing after the critical early childhood period” (Ecological 11).  I disagree in part with this based on my previous knowledge of Montessori and Piaget’s developmental plane and sensitive period theories, as well as the research presented on the brain’s plasticity mentioned in Hyun’s papers.  Learning is significantly easier when accomplished within the sensitive period, but topics can still be learned once that period has passed.  It may take additional concrete experience and repetition on the learners part, but the knowledge can still be acquired.  The brain is plastic and can continue to grow when exercised properly.

As an addition to the research, Hyun provides experiential and interdisciplinary considerations for developing an early childhood environmental curriculum guideline that will cultivate the naturalist intelligence.  A curriculum that incorporates these considerations “respond[s] to, validates, and reinforces children’s naturalist intelligence and their ways of constructing knowledge of nature…[and] will foster the child’s life-long love of [the] natural world” (Ecological 17).  The guidelines suggest a balance of direct nature experience as well as activities for reflection and assimilation of those experiences.  While Hyun focuses on early childhood, the suggested curriculum considerations could be easily adapted for all stages of childhood and early adolescence.

In conclusion, Hyun’s work provides necessary theoretical research to help educators understand the way children experience the natural world (“in a deep and direct manner” (Young 3)) and that adults have an evolutionary responsibility to provide environments that enhance the plasticity of the ecological brain and naturalist intelligence during this sensitive period and in my opinion, beyond.  Additionally, adults in contact with young children must exhibit attitudes that encourage biophilia rather than biophobia.  This will meet children’s developmental needs, promote a future generation of people with green thumbs, and could even begin to turn brown thumbs back to green in present society.  The naturalist intelligence is born within us all, it is an evolutionary green thumb right we all share. We just need to dig it out and let it grow in our children and ourselves.


Works Cited

Hyun, Eunsook. “Ecological Human Brain and Young Children’s ‘Naturalist Intelligence’ from the perspective of Developmentally and Culturally Appropriate Practice (DCAP).” Presented at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association. 24-28 April 2000, New Orleans, LA, Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association. Print.

Hyun, Eunsook. “How Is Young Children’s Intellectual Culture of Understanding Nature Different from Adults?” Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. 24-28 April 2000, New Orleans, LA, Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Print.

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