Place/Sense of Place: Engaging with Context
Everyone everywhere ascribes meaning to the spaces of their daily lives. We are, in Gruenewald’s (2003a, 2003b) terms, “place-makers.” The meanings we attribute to contexts help us to situate ourselves in the world and to feel a sense of belonging. Underlying ecological understanding is sense of place that has, at its heart, an understanding of, and emotional connection to, nature. Engaging with context, with place, the third principle of IEE, is centrally concerned with developing students’ sense of place—a personal relationship with one’s context as well as a certain depth of knowledge about it. Affective and cognitive dimensions weave together to form a sense of place that involves feeling close to nature and knowing about the soil underfoot, the flora, fauna, sources of water, and rock structures. A sense of place is valuable not only for the knowledge one gains of context but, perhaps more importantly, for the emotional bond that can form. It is this emotional bond that may inspire people to live sustainably.
Everyone everywhere can help to develop students’ sense of place in teaching. IEE is not a project for the rural teacher but, rather, for all teachers. Building on the premise that wildness or wild nature is everywhere, and that we are born with an innate sense of connection with nature, there is a potential in all contexts, whether urban, suburban, or rural, to bring the natural context into focus as one situates oneself in the world. Could this be easier in rural Saskatchewan than in downtown Detroit? Probably. Even so, is it not possible, by teaching in a certain way, and by providing students with opportunities to emotionally engage with nature wherever they live, to bring into focus the natural dimension of their contexts? Yes. This is where IEE can play a role. Through engaging students in place-making activities we can nurture our students’ emotional attachments to features of their local natural community. Whether in vacant lots, local parks, or in forests, we can afford children opportunities to develop emotional bonds with the natural world and to explore and to create special places as they situate themselves in the world. By doing so, we may nurture students’ attachment to place.
IEE considers the imaginative ways in which we make meaning of our contexts—that is, the ways we build a sense of place through what might be called place-making (cognitive) tools. There are at least three place-making (cognitive) tools that may be employed to nurture students’ sense of relationship to their natural contexts. Whether it be in the baby’s initial sensory explorations of the world (the sense of relation tool), the young child’s emotional connection to “binky” or to some other object, process or person (the formation of emotional attachments tool), or the child’s interest in creating forts and hide-outs (the creation of special places tool), human beings actively engage their imaginations and emotions in building a sense of place. Place-making tools will take a prominent place in the imaginative ecological educator’s toolkit, supporting ecological understanding through increased knowledge of and connection to place.
Place-making (cognitive) tools
The sense of relation tool
The formation of emotional attachments tool
The creation of special places tool
Gruenewald, D. (2003a). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619-654.
Gruenewald, D. (2003b). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, 32(4), 3-12.