THINKING LIKE A MOUNTAIN: Learning From the Past As We Reconnect Our Children With Nature

About the Author

Regis Nisengwe is a natural resources and development practitioner and consultant who lives in Rwanda. After completing his undergraduate studies in Environmental Chemistry, he worked as an environmental volunteer in youth movements and later pursued his graduate studies in Natural Resources Management. In his free time, Regis writes about subjects which interest him, especially the environment and nature.

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When Aldo Leopold, one of the towering figures in environmental and nature conservation, experienced a wolf dying as a result of hunting, he knew that something was wrong with the way humans interact with nature. Mindful of the repercussions that such an act—the killing of a wolf—would have on an entire ecosystem, Leopold began to advocate for a new approach to the human nature relationship that he called “thinking like a mountain.”

This approach, he believed, would allow for “complete appreciation for the profound interconnectedness of the elements in the ecosystems.” To “think like a mountain,” demands that we consider ourselves a part of the bigger web of the natural environment rather than separate from nature. 

Fifty years later, Leopold’s approach was seen in the work and writing of Rachel Carson who wrote that Man, however much he may like to pretend the contrary, is part of nature.”

Despite these warnings from environmental juggernauts, the abyss between people and nature has only grown more gaping. Creating an intimate bond with nature has become a strenuous effort. We can no longer deny the truth: we are growing more disconnected from nature than ever. To the question posed by Leopold a century ago to a society far less disconnected from nature— “does the educated citizen know he is only a cog in an ecological mechanism?”—our current society can only respond with a resounding “NO”.

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C&NN’s Natural Leaders Teaming Up

But there is still hope to save the planet. One of the possible ways to come back to our senses is to “Re-Connect With Nature” and remind ourselves that we are nature and not separate from it. By protecting nature, we are not doing any favors for nature. We are saving ourselves.


Reconnecting with nature means experiencing nature and changing our behavior towards it. 

Given the mounting evidence that direct exposure to nature is important for healthy childhood development, physical and emotional health of children and adults, we need to start prioritizing connecting children and young people to nature. In their 2012 study “Connection to Nature – Children’s Affective Attitude Toward Nature,” authors Cheng and Monroe explore the subject of children’s connection to nature, prescribing four ways in which children can connect with nature. These suggestions include (a) enjoyment of nature; (b) empathy for creature; c) sense of oneness; and (d) sense of responsibility.

If we are able to encourage our children to connect with nature, it may affect the way they treat and interact with nature. For example, there is evidence that connection to nature influences one’s intention to participate in nature-based activities in the future and interest in performing environmentally-friendly behaviors. In 2016, Masashi Soga and his colleagues demonstrated in their study in Tokyo, Japan, that children who frequently experience nature are more likely to develop a greater emotional affinity to and support for protecting biodiversity. These results were in line with those found by Silvia Collado and colleagues in 2012 who concluded that  “nature experiences increased children’s emotional affinity towards nature, their ecological beliefs, and willingness to display ecological behavior.” A 2013 research report by RSPB, a UK-based charity, adds, “When young people are connected to nature, it has positive impacts on their education, physical health, emotional well-being, and personal and social skills, and helps them to become responsible citizens.”

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It is time we take concrete steps to engage our children and young people. This can be as simple as spending more time outside (green time) than inside on TV (screen time). It can be organizing field trips to the park or to the wilderness. It can be a walk to the lake. It can even be as big as starting an NGO that strives to reconnect people to nature. Whatever the scale of your involvement, the important thing is to start acting.  

There is beauty craftily woven into a delicate lace of the ecosystem. Reconnecting with nature means starting the journey to appreciate that beauty, an experience that guarantees a multi-sensory delight. When we start appreciating nature, we will hopefully change the way we treat it. We will change our behavior towards it. There is not time to wait. Start now.

More reading and resources
IMAGINE A NEWER WORLD: A Vision of a Nature-Rich Future, One We Can Create Together
WHAT’S NATURE? Scientists and Poets Struggle to Find the Answer, but Each of Us Must Capture the Mystery
NATURE’S NEURONS: Do Early Experiences in the Natural World Help Shape Children’s Brain Architecture?
VITAMIN N FOR THE SOUL: 10 Ways Faith-Based Organizations Can Connect Children, Families and Communities to the Natural World
10 Reasons Children, Adults & Communities Need Vitamin N
CONNECTING WITH VITAMIN N: A Ten-Year Reflection from One of Canada’s Leading Conservationists

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