[Un]disciplining Environmental Education

The Finnish Nature School Model

The Finnish Nature School

Thou hast here a lovely village,
Finest spot in all of Northland,
In the lowlands sweet the verdure,
In the uplands, fields of beauty,
With the lake-shore near the hamlet,
Near thy home the running water,
Where the goslings swim and frolic,
Water-birds disport in numbers.

-from Lönnrot's epic Kalevala, rune 25

The Finnish locate their identity not only in relation to other individuals, but in relation to nature. To be Finnish is to be connected to the land and the sea. As such, the Finnish recognize "Jokamiehen oikeudet," what translates as Everyman's rights, or right to be in relation to nature. All people have the right to roam, to camp, to gather, to hunt, to fish. Nature schools foster this concept of Jokamiehen oikeudet in schools while reminding students that by virtue of these natural rights, they are similarly bound to nature.

As such, Nature studies offer Finnish students time to engage with nature to learn about their own environmental impact. Finnish schools adopt a transdisciplinary approach to understanding environmental education, which contrasts with the U.S. approaches, where environmental education is almost solely taught during science courses and touched on only briefly through earth science standards. By un-disciplining environmental education, Finnish citizens have some of the most advanced content knowledge as it relates to climate change, and their policies, cultural practices, and aesthetics reflect that knowledge.

The Film: [Un]disciplining Environmental Education

The tree of my youth stands rejoicing around me: O human!
And the grass bids me welcome from foreign lands.
My head I recline in the grass: now finally home.
Now I turn my back on everything that lies behind me:
My only companions will be the forest and the shore and the lake.

-Edith Södergran

Working with our Finnish partners at the University of Helsinki, we observed a number of sites of environmental engagement in both informal and formal settings. We spent time at three Nature Schools around Helsinki observing students learning in nature, interviewing teachers and education policy experts, with the goal of better understanding the relationship between Nature Schools, the local communities they serve, and the kinds of impact they might have in establishing policy. The result is this film project.

We hope that by learning about the (un)disciplining of environmental education in Finland, our audience will reflect on the role our schools might play in fostering one's relationship with nature and using learning in nature as a method towards addressing our own environmental challenges.


Five Minute Meditations

Calm it is quiet
it speaks not laughs not
it is quiet
calm, thinks not
longs not anymore
calm it is quiet
the eye has shut itself
the heart doesn't beat.

-Gunnar Björling

In our present period, we often blame digital technology--especially that technology which is closest at hand, the mobile phone and the synesthesia of flashing, pinging, tapping it produces--for separating us from nature. But we wonder how technology might also reset us, reconnect us with nature. In this project, we want you to think about how we might use digital technology to better understand how the Finnish have designed nature into their built environment. If we can use technology to help individuals see differently, then they might begin the process of reverse engineering our design, our built environment, our institutions, our policies, to include nature.

The Finnish Nature schools often employ the practice of meditation, encouraging their students to find a quite spot, alone, where they can reflect on their relationship with nature. We've created two meditation experiences where you can experience nature in Finland using the 360-degree video affordances of your mobile phone. This video is Google Cardboard ready and also available on the Oculus's YouTube App.

Baltic Sea

Finland has some 2,760 miles of coastline along the Baltic Sea, and the majority of its population of 5.5 million people live within one hour from its brackish water. The sea plays an important role in Finnish industry and commerce. The busy harbor of Helsinki handles millions of tons of freight and services over 4.7 million passengers per year. As a result, the Finnish people are continually thinking about how to live in balance with this resource.
In this 5 Minute Meditation, we want to take you to the fortress island of Suomenlinna. The military has long abandoned the island to birds who have build their nests along its rocky outcrops and shoals. You might hear the high shrill of small fishing boats in the distance, or the rich tenor of a passing freighter somewhere near. Take in the sounds of lapping waves and sea gulls, but also think about how you might live in better balance with the sea by making different choices in your life.

Urban Forest

As cities sprawl, its planners often build ring roads to connect the people living across its outskirts. But in Finland, planners build forest rings to serve the same purpose. Helsinki's Viherkehä (Green Ring) provides recreation areas and national parks in a contiguous 40-mile radius around the city. The goal is not only to create buffers along which our built environment must end, but to design connections with nature.
In this 5 Minute Meditation, we would like you to reflect in just such a place, a forrest, near an industrial zone, next to a road, along a flight path, but no less a forest, teeming with life, connected. Use this time to reflect, to breathe deeply, to listen, to seek to understand.


About the Filmmakers


Cassie Quigley is an Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Instruction of Learning at the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research addresses the long-term resolution of environmental issues, which includes learning from and with communities. Understanding how different communities conceive of the environment and sustainability is paramount in efforts to increase the frequency of environmentally conscious choices, a central goal of environmental education.


Stephen Quigley’s work examines the role of tools and technology in the production of space and place. His work has been published in The Journal of Media Studies, Computers and Composition Online, Textshop Experiments, and Kairos, A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. He teaches digital media production and technical communications at the University of Pittsburgh.