Arts-Based Environmental Education and the Ecological Crisis: Between Opening the Senses and Coping with Psychic Numbing

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


When educators try to encourage children to establish a bond between them and nature, they are faced with a major challenge. In general, many children seem to have lost interest in nature because it is less exciting than the world of electronic illusions. Educators seem badly in need of innovative ways to awaken and nourish the sensibility of children to the natural world. Art, through engaging the senses, can be a unique catalyst in developing a “sense of wonder” about nature. Art practice encourages us to see the world again afresh, as if we see it for the first time. This state of mind and sensitivity enhances the ability to tune in with the slower rhythms of the “more-than human- world.” Children are often rather aware of the ecological crisis that is taking place and that manifests itself most dramatically right now through global warming. A common response to this is psychic numbing, a mild form of cognitive dissociation. Art as a therapeutic practice – without being labeled as such – can help children cope with the “idea of crisis”, e.g. through the expression of (often suppressed) inner images and the subsequent discussion of these. In my paper I discuss how arts-based environmental education can both facilitate children in the opening of their senses to nature, and provide them space for coming to terms with their fears about the ecological crisis. One can distinguish between two apparently very different ways of employing expressive art practice in teaching children about the natural environment. In the first, art practiceis a rnethod for facilitating a reconnection of
children with nature. In the other, the creative process withchildren is a way of aiding them to make sense of, and to cope with, the current ecological crisis. At first glance, the two approaches may look like extremes at the opposite ends of a spectrum. For the primary association of engaging the arts in enhancing nature awareness maybe one of joy, of opening an aesthetic sensibility and ignitinga sense of wonder. In contrast, the idea of art as an aide (mentally, psychologically and spiritually) to facilitate coping with the ecological calamities around us -
both those that are manifest and those that are feared for - most likely will provoke images of doom and gloom, of darkness and despair. In my view, however, both modes of relating to the environment through art can be thought
of in fact, as being complementary to each other.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMetamorphoses in children’s literature and culture
EditorsB. Drillsma-Milgrom, L Kirstinä
Place of PublicationTurku, Finland
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • children
  • art education
  • ecological crisis
  • environmental education
  • perception


Dive into the research topics of 'Arts-Based Environmental Education and the Ecological Crisis: Between Opening the Senses and Coping with Psychic Numbing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this