Children love nature – the trees, the animals, the streams, butterflies and so on. Waldorf teachers wish to deepen this in such a way that it becomes a foundation for both the scientific and the practical approach to nature, just as we treat a friend with care, especially if we are crucially dependent on that friend for our well-being. What is good for nature is always good for people. A love of nature, a scientifically based understanding of natural processes and active care for the environment – are the three levels on which Waldorf pupils of all ages learn to live in partnership and co-operation with the living world.
Interference with the natural environment by man, and even its destruction, are nothing new. However, they have never taken place on so catastrophic a scale as they are doing at present. Nevertheless all cultures in the world have also had periods in which extraordinarily fruitful forms of co-operation with nature have been developed. Cultivated plants and domestic animals have been brought into existence by very diverse methods of breeding and grafting in this co-operative relationship, and all of us still depend on the results of these procedures. The face of entire landscapes has been altered by cultivation. The cultivated countryside has taken on the appearance that most of us would consider to be "natural", giving scope to an enormous variety of wild animals and plants.
This cultivation arose out of a continuous interaction of question and answer with nature, out of which a sophisticated "practical science" developed which can compare favourably with the best modern ecological systems. An intimate knowledge of its partner, nature, led this "practical science" to a conservationist approach to working with nature, doing justice both to human needs and to the conditions nature itself needs for its continued healthy development.
The present generation is facing the challenge of picking up this activity in a way that is appropriate to the consciousness of the time we live in. Children can show us where to start. They love nature, as they love animals and trees, flowers and butterflies. When this love deepens and takes root in the human being, it will grow into a sense of mutual sympathy and interdependence, a will to work which is directed by a feeling of responsibility.
In Waldorf Schools, scientific knowledge is not divorced from the complementary and indispensable emotional component. Animals and plants are introduced vividly and imaginatively, but also with accuracy and with constant regard to the ecological conditions of which they are a part. It is not sufficient to line up and memorise the dry facts. The students need to be emotionally affected. Lessons are not intended to present a superficial introduction to a set of facts. Teachers aim to create actual encounters with natural phenomena which leave a lasting impression. The intense involvement of the teacher is transmitted to the boys and girls as they learn.
But we cannot even stop here. Simply adhering to the cognitive and emotional levels will merely further the present trend which has actually led to the ecological crisis: people feel deep concern, they even realise what is to be done – but they are unable to translate that concern into action, to change their course of their lives, if need be. It is therefore essential to include the level of work, of personal activity, in curricula considerations. The school grounds can be cultivated by the pupils; in many schools, there is a garden that can be put to use. Students may be required to take on the care of a public garden, a piece of cultivated land or part of a nature reserve can be put in their charge. In the middle and upper school, ecological agriculture or "forestry management" successively appear on the curriculum.
All these activities reinforce the experience that nature is more than a mere reservoir of natural resources. Regarded as such a reservoir, nature appears to be inexhaustible. There will then be nothing to argue against its continual exploitation. In future, nature will only remain helpfully at hand if we get to know and to respect her needs. When all is said and done, the study of ecology will enable us and the pupils we are responsible for, to put into practice what we have seen to be the right and appropriate course of action.Andreas Suchantke