Place-Based Education: Learning with the Land at CEED

by | Oct 12, 2021

“Land is the residence of our more-than-human relatives, the dust of our ancestors, the holder of seeds, the makers of rain; our teacher.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer

Over the years, I’ve discovered a love for the word: “land”. Land is a rather simple word, yet it  holds tremendous meaning. Thanks to my undergraduate degree in ecosystem studies, my heart for the natural world and a yearning for the wisdom of earth-centered cultures, I’ve been introduced to the concept of land being much more than something we buy or sell or rest our homes on. 

To indigenous people – the people who are native to a particular region – land has always come with a spiritual, physical, social and cultural connection. In the wake of global environmental crises and ecological degradation, it’s clear that our modern society has forgotten that land is sacred. We’ve forgotten that we are interdependent with the land and by and large, we’ve abandoned the ways of living in a reciprocal relationship, where we acknowledge that the land gives us so much, and it is our duty to honor and give back. Robin Wall Kimmerer – writer, scientist, professor, and indigenous woman – says, “ It’s not just land that is broken, but more importantly, our relationship to land.” 

We are so fortunate at Aishling Forest School to have our home base be at the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery (CEED) in Brookhaven New York. CEED’s vision is: “to be a community resource for connecting to and experiencing the joys of nature in a way that restores balance and harmony in our lives so we become stewards of the earth.”  Partnering with CEED, we as the Aishling Forest School community are taking part in the practice of restoring harmonious relationships to the land.

ranger eric, aishling forests choolThis week at Forest School, we welcomed a special guest – Ranger Eric, our resident wildlife biologist at CEED with over 30 years of experience – to introduce us to the plants, animals, and indigenous people of our “home in the woods.” Learners enthusiastically walked around the property with Ranger Eric, as he pointed out to us Turkey Vultures flying overhead, pollinator gardens, insect “hotels”, chestnuts ready to be roasted, how to lovingly hold a snake and so much more. We ended by offering up smoke from a Shinnecock cleansing wand and by making a wish for our land or hope for the future. The enthusiasm and engagement expressed by our learners was palpable – it’s clear that they care to learn about the natural world and that there is so much wonder there. 

While the Forest School model of education stands alone in its philosophy and method, I’ve come to realize how we at Aishling Forest School are also drawing upon the methods of Place-based education (PBE). Place-based education immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for study. Some of the benefits of PBE include: 

  1. Fostering students’ connection to place
  2. Creating vibrant community partnerships
  3. Boosting student achievement
  4. Improving environmental, social, and economic vitality

By working hand in hand with CEED, we are better able to understand the natural environment which we are learning and playing in each class of every season of Forest School. This understanding of the environmental ecosystem we are a part of encourages us all to take care of this land and give thanks for holding us in our learning.

To learn more about CEED and stay updated on upcoming events and opportunities to learn and give back, we encourage you to visit their website and to join Aishling for our seasonal “skill shares”, where we share outdoor skills to inspire your nature-connection practices and play-based learning. 


Ideas to connect more deeply with the land you live and learn on at home:

  1. Learn about the indigenous people who lived on the land before you. What were their names? What were their culture and customs like? How did they honor the natural world? What were some of their names for trees, rivers, rocks, etc? A great place to start is here.
  2. Learn about the wild plants and animals growing near you. Field guides are a great tool to help identify what you find and we have quite a few in our Woodland Library! Once you know what you are looking at, you will better be able to cultivate a relationship with the plants and animals and dive deeper into research on their life cycles and habits.
  3. Create rituals and routines of remembrance. The concept of land is inherently spiritual; rituals and routines like choosing sit spots or making offerings like nature mandalas, herbs, or leaving an extra plate of food inspire and awaken our innate spiritual connection to life and to land. 
  4. Take your academic learning outside! There’s a place in nature to learn letters and math. Practice letters with a stick as a writing utensil and patch of dirt as a drawing board. Or, practice addition and subtraction with an assortment of rocks! Wild Learning is a great resource for bringing math and reading into nature.
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