Holistic medicine

Wilderness education: implementation and application

Wilderness education: implementation and application

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First of all, people are nature: we are born, we mature and we die. We desire other people sexually to reproduce; we perceive our environment; we suffer from diseases; we communicate with a multitude of other living beings without consciously grasping it: we smell flowers, we watch crows in the trees, we hear the birds singing.

We lived most of our evolution as hunters and gatherers, subject to the rhythms of nature as well as other animals. Understanding the “language of nature” was the existential challenge that humans had to master to survive.

Many people today painfully realize that they have lost this connection to the wilderness and feel the alienation that civilization brings.

On the one hand, we now know more about biology in the sense of the natural sciences than ever before. Schoolchildren take in knowledge of which their grandparents had no idea - whether molecular biology, genetics, the nervous system or the senses of animals.

On the other hand, the knowledge of experience about the “wilderness on the doorstep” disappears. Children know the fauna of Africa and Antarctica from television documentaries and the Internet, but they hardly take the natural environment - they lack access that was only natural for rural people a few generations ago.

Where does the golden bunting look for food? How does the jay call? How do you recognize the tadpole of the water frog? But also: How do I build a shelter in the forest when it rains? How do I clean my body when there is no water around? How do I make a boat from branches? How do I make ropes? How do I make a salad from Giersch, Dandelion and Chickweed?

Nature and wilderness education try to restore this missing connection to nature. The educational goal is to convey a life that reconciles human interests with their natural environment - through sharper perception and understanding.

Flow learning

Nature education is based on the concept of "flow learning" that the American Joseph Cornell developed. This teaching is based on four pillars: arouse enthusiasm, perceive in a concentrated manner, experience directly and share experiences.

Wilderness education in its various varieties is based on Jon Young's principles, which he applies at the Wilderness Aware School in North America. The origin is in the Tracker School by Tom Brown, who built on the knowledge of indigenous cultures

Romantic pictures circulate in postmodernity about so-called primitive peoples, freely invented esoteric kitsch creates an image of traditional cultures that has little in common with their reality, but reveals a lot about the longings in late capitalism.

Nonetheless, there is a real core to this kitsch: so-called primitive people were and are much closer to non-human nature than post-industrial cities. They see themselves as part of the eternal cycle of becoming and passing away and consider animals, plants and stones as subjects.

This respect stems from a knowledge of the natural connections that has been handed down over thousands of years, and they developed their sensual abilities in the wilderness to an extent that is hardly imaginable for postmodern times.

Nature education

The aim of nature education is to convey the basics for ecologically sustainable action as well as their necessity. Awakening interest in nature is therefore only the first step in creating awareness of how human intervention affects the interrelationships in the ecological structure.

Children can learn in nature education what position humans have in ecosystems and learn specifically how people can use their intellectual and technical skills to act responsibly.

It is particularly important for children from metropolitan areas to recognize themselves as part of nature. Wilderness education does not only take place in the primeval forests of Canada, but also in the urban nature experience area - in the city park, allotment garden or in the cemetery.

Urban spaces for experiencing nature are green spaces that are largely or completely left to their own devices so that they naturally develop backwards. Such areas are at least one hectare in size and integrated into residential areas, so that the children can easily find an entrance and play here every day without supervision.

Around half of these areas develop completely without intervention, others are kept open through extensive grazing. The everyday exploration of nature helps the children to develop mentally and physically healthy.

Learn sustainability

We are now in one of the great extinctions in the history of the planet. Animals and plants are extinct to an extent that makes them dizzy. Entire ecosystems are on the verge of collapse: lowland rainforests such as coral reefs, savannas such as mangrove swamps.

One of the goals of nature education is therefore to show children that human action must have limits. However, this must not cause apocalyptic fears in young people, on the contrary, they learn what they can do with small steps.

Moistening peatlands again, carrying toads across the street to the spawning area or creating a hedge for rare bird species are such nature experience activities that children are enthusiastic about - especially because they create something themselves.

On a pond safari, for example, children catch aquatic animals with landing nets and put them in glasses to watch them - a small magnifying glass helps with this. Teachers can explain to learners what animals are, how they behave and what role they play in the ecosystem.

However, this does not run as frontal lessons, but all participants can contribute their knowledge. At the same time, the children learn how to act in an ecologically responsible way: they must not take the animals home, injure them or even torture them, but release them as soon as possible.

Training for teachers

Teachers can continue their education in nature and environmental education at environmental academies and nature conservation associations and at the same time find out about guidelines for nature conservation.

Vienna has had a bachelor’s degree in environmental education at the University of Agricultural and Environmental Education since 2008. Modules include environment, sustainable development, pedagogy, local and regional sustainability, responsible use of natural spaces, climate protection and energy efficiency. However, this is not the same as wilderness education.

In Berlin / Brandenburg, people in teaching professions such as teachers, ore-educators, social workers or educators can complete a "holistic nature education" course at Blattwerk Naturpädagogik Berlin.

The methods combine Maria Montessori's “cosmic education” with wilderness education, experiential education, art, photography, improvisation theater and narrative techniques.

To draw interest

Nature education is based on the interests of the children. Their passion for body experiences can be used excellently in learning from, in and with nature: for example, when walking barefoot, they experience what the earth feels like, and at the same time sharpen their perception of not treading on sharp stones or thorns.

Children gain success by creating something they watch as they grow. Planting a row of trees next to a field or creating a pond in a project week on the school grounds permanently connects students with their work.

Over the next few years, they will watch how newts and insects settle, how the first birds build their nests, and how their pond and tree change.

Nature education always takes place in harmony with nature and species protection - so it is forbidden to ride the jeep through the nature reserve. Taking living beings from nature is affected by nature conservation law, and also the observation of animals in the wild is subject to strict rules so as not to disturb birds during breeding and all animals during rest.

Teachers should therefore coordinate outdoor activities with the responsible nature conservation authority or NABU on site.

Wilderness education

Much more than other forms of nature and environmental education, widget education conveys the skills to survive in the great outdoors.

This includes orienting yourself in the field, cooking on a self-ignited fire with mushrooms and plants you have collected yourself, reading animal tracks and tracks, handcrafting with natural materials such as weaving baskets from willow twigs, or building a hut from these materials.

The learning objectives are aimed at different groups. For example, the NABU Academy Gut Sunder near Winsen an der Aller in 2016 offers:

A survival camp ladies only. It should “awaken natural instincts, use what is there, kindle fire, find water and make it drinkable, quickly build an emergency shelter, cross a river without a bridge.” And further: “It is about comfortable survival even in difficult ones Situations such as may occur in nature, in the event of a car breakdown, hiking, in the event of a power failure or on vacation when there is no contact and no help can be called. We leave our civilian life behind in this exciting course. Improvisation is our most important tool! You learn to use everything you find. Everyone can contribute their experiences. "

Children, on the other hand, speak to “colorful nature discovery days”: “We spend 2 exciting days outdoors in nature. As nature detectives, we go in search of traces, discover T-shirt trees, juice balls and real forest experts. We have time to run around, build booths and keep nets and learn in passing that why wolves just have to howl and what ants have to do with lions. "

If you want to work as a wilderness educator yourself, Sunder offers you a one-year course in natural and Wilderness education in 6 modules on weekends: “This one-year training invites you to take a path that enables deep connection with nature and your own needs. The training is aimed at people in educational professions such as teachers, educators, occupational therapists, etc. In addition, it is suitable as a qualification to work as a freelance nature and wilderness educator. "

The training includes: “Natural handicrafts such as making fires without matches, making simple everyday objects and natural shelters; Find, assess and clean water; Cooking with groups; natural dangers; Exercise exercises and sneaking games; Introduction to the philosophy of nature. "

The second module is about: “Birds & the language of nature, way of life of birds; the five call types of birds; Alarm systems in the forest; silent and unseen movement in the flow of natural processes; deepened perception exercises and games.

In the third module, the participants learn about: “Plants & life in the wild. The nature of plants; Identifying, collecting and preparing edible wild plants; Cords made from plant fibers; Cooking without fireproof dishes; Orientation without map and compass; Camouflage, covert communication and sneaking in groups; the experience of silence; the inner voice; Nature as a mirror. "

In the fourth module the topics are: “Trees & the way of the mentor. The nature of the trees; Trees as mentors; Coyote Teaching and the Art of Asking; the stages of creative learning; ecological perception; Methods and games to empathize with other living beings. "

The fifth module deepens the information on: “Mammals & the art of reading tracks, life strategies of predators and plant eaters; the life of mammals in the snow; Roaming the tracks of wild animals; the trace types of the various animal families; the seven arts of reading tracks; Throwing wood and hunting ethics; Games for empathizing with animals and exercises for trace detection. "

The sixth module is dedicated to philosophy and organization: “The power of community, promotion of community among primitive people; Leadership skills, conflict management and group mentoring; Preparation and structure of events; Legal basis for working with groups; Presentation and celebration of practiced skills; final coyote festival. "

Participants learn the most important elements of this training during a weekend “Life in the Wild”: “This seminar is about basic skills with which we humans can live in the wilderness. We are guided by the question of what possibilities nature offers us for this. "

It is not a question of proving how tough you are in “survival training”: “We will therefore do without modern tools. Instead, we learn from the knowledge of primitive people, so that it is more than just survival training. We also get to feel some of how natural people perceive and blend in with the wild. Beyond bare survival, we will find out how we can feel good in and with nature. Topics will be: making fires without matches, making simple items of everyday use, natural protective housing, cooking without fireproof dishes, finding water, deeper perception and sneaking, natural philosophy etc. "

If you just want to get a taste of the subject, there is an introduction: “This trial day gives insights into the teaching method of wilderness education. Knowledge about nature is conveyed with the help of games, questioning techniques and stories. At the same time, the exciting and simple form of teaching, coyote mentoring, is made tangible. ”

Role model for primitive people

Wilderness education builds on the knowledge, methods and pedagogical understanding of traditional cultures. She teaches techniques and skills to survive in nature and to feel at home in it.

The direct entry into the “wilderness” distinguishes wilderness education from other forms of environmental education and nature education.

Wilderness pedagogy reverses the guidelines of the pedagogy of modern Europe: Their goal was and is to free people from the "bonds of nature" through education with Kant as with Marx, with Hegel as with Spinoza.

So it was about overcoming the wilderness through culture, controlling nature through the mind rather than living in that wilderness. This is exactly what wilderness education is about.

The educational goal is to bring awareness of the natural context back into consciousness and to be in harmony with nature. That in turn should lead to a sustainable way of life.


Wilderness education also serves as therapy. Experiences in nature activate a sensuality that we forget in everyday urban life, and learning in the natural environment strengthens our ability to perceive.

Studies from psychology, neurology and neurobiology show that a sensual and emotional connection to the non-human nature is essential for mental health.

However, wilderness education is not the same as wilderness therapy. In wildlife therapy, intensive criminals are exposed to nature in groups in order to master fundamental challenges in teamwork and to learn social behavior.

Although this suggests that learning in nature can even cure psychologically conspicuous people, the usual further training by wilderness educators is aimed at "normal" children, adolescents and adults.

It includes survival techniques as well as tracking, bird calls, animal and plant science, silent movement, making fires with wood or flint, preparing food from wild herbs, animal and plant science or nature mentoring.

In addition to the practical “subjects”, the worldview of traditional peoples is also part of the program, for example as part of shamanism seminars. The basis for this is the experience of the participants in nature.

Wilderness therapy is based on experiencing community, which is also essential for wilderness education. Young people with a dissocial background should learn that in nature they are only strong as a community.

The history of nature and wilderness education

The founder of nature education, Joseph Cornell, recognized four levels of nature encounter in the 1970s.

1.) Create a basis of familiarity. For this purpose, the participants are introduced to the living space with sensual experiences and games and thus find each other in the new environment as a community.

2.) Discovering and getting to know nature.

3.) The deepening of the sensual experience, for example by isolating a sense: feel the forest, smell the sea, hear the steppe.

4.) Deepening through playful identification with other living beings and through meditation in order to experience the connection with nature and the oneness with all life.

According to Cornell, the method of nature education relies on holism and implements this through:

- Mind games

- Play in and with nature

- Artistic design

- Craftsmanship

- Experience silence and tranquility in nature

- life in nature

- Discovery discovering

- imparting knowledge about nature

Cornell came from Northern California and developed his nature experience program for the university, after which he worked for several years at schools and with the scouts.

He wanted to arouse enthusiasm, teach a concentrated perception, enable immediate experiences and share these suggestions.

Wilderness education in Germany was also inspired by the United States. Tom Brown founded the Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School in the 1990s. German students of his founded wilderness schools in this country.

There is no official training in Germany. The wilderness educators bring their own experiences and exchange with traditional cultures as well as educational qualifications, biological studies or related professions.

The common thread is the philosophy and knowledge of traditional cultures, but linked to the knowledge and methods of modern natural science.

Interpretation of nature and culture

The interpretation of nature also comes from the USA, and today the team in the Eifel National Park practices it. The main thing here is to discover exciting stories about what is happening in the nature of the national park and to convey them to visitors.

A national park is the area in nature conservation where nature can once again be a wilderness, so it is left as much as possible - in contrast to nature conservation areas that use people to a limited extent or that only partially exist through human intervention.

They also differ from nature parks and biosphere reserves, i.e. natural and traditional cultural landscapes, which are to be preserved in their entire character, but are not a wilderness as a cultural landscape.

German national parks have an educational mandate and run programs for children, adolescents and adults according to the motto "Let nature be nature". As a rule, they are based less on so-called primitive peoples, but on concepts of nature education, nature interpretation, eco-education and experiential education, but also flow learning and earth education.

Wilderness schools

Wilderness schools are aimed at private individuals, schools, kindergartens and extra-curricular educational institutions with seminars and projects.

They teach independently of large protected areas and consider the transitions between wilderness, culture and civilization to be fluid. It is about creating awareness, recognizing and discovering the "small wilderness" - paying attention to bird singing instead of car noise, seeing the goldfinch on the thistle next to the garbage dump, recognizing whether a stone marten or a cat under the Car sits.

This approach also has role models in the United States, where American natives taught how to use the skills of scouts, rangers and warriors in the “urban jungle”.

A network of wilderness educators, the WIND, has existed since 2000, and since 2007 there have been official forest kindergartens in Germany using wilderness education methods. The 8 Shields Institute has been developing an international structure for wilderness educators since 2009.

With this, wilderness education is becoming increasingly professional.

Further training is aimed at teachers, educators, biologists, foresters, naturopaths and doctors who work with naturopathic methods, ergonomic and behavioral therapists, tour guides, people who work in ecotourism and at everyone else who wants to work in this area.

The general focus of the training is:

- Basics of wildlife education, possible occupational fields, personal development, individual needs of the participants

- Techniques and skills for simple living with nature

- Knowledge of the natural world, animals and plants

- survival techniques

- influence of diet

- peaceful communication to enable higher forms of communication.

- Techniques to lead teams

What to look out for

Those who successfully complete the training receive a certificate and can work as a wilderness educator, but wilderness education is not an official degree.

If you want to take part in an apprenticeship or a weekend seminar, it is best to find out about the seriousness of the teachers.

1.) In what context does the seminar / course take place. National park administrations and seminar houses of the NABU like the NABU Academy Sunder require professional standards for teachers.

2.) What previous experience do the teachers have? Have you completed a relevant degree, for example, teaching, biology, forestry, ethnology, history, archeology such as environmental education or at least a credible career? Do you have experience with indigenous cultures that go beyond a short trip to the USA? Do you publish in specialist magazines? That speaks for a sound background.

3.) First of all, do you offer concrete and verifiable modules in wilderness techniques? For example, determining bird sounds, recognizing traces of mammals, different ways of lighting a fire?

Second, do their ideological teachings go hand in hand, for example, by showing how we can sharpen our senses through this real (!) Experience of nature and relate to them? Then it shows seriousness.

Or can't you tell a sea eagle from a buzzard, but tell about feeling the "power of the eagle"? Do they tell of “harmony with nature”, but break off living branches to light a fire?

Then something is wrong - even spiritual teachers of so-called primitive peoples have an empirically saturated knowledge of the surrounding nature, from which their spirituality is derived.

4.) Teachers claim to teach spiritual rituals of American Natives who do not pass these natives on to outsiders themselves - "smoke the holy pipe", "dance of the mountain spirits", "recognize Brujos" etc. and thereby promise the participants "higher wisdom" "? Does the "teacher" have a dream catcher with a howling wolf in front of the full moon behind the windshield?

In this case, extreme caution is advised because it shows disrespect for the people who live in these spiritual systems.

5) Is wilderness education supplemented with ingredients from the "surprise bag" of postmodern esotericism such as "Celtic tree horoscope", "angel healing", "chakras" or "healing by hand"? There are also "awakening experiences" along the lines of: "At some point I broke out of my job as a bank clerk, drove to the Indian reservation, and the shaman enlightened me."

Then keep your hands off; traditional cultures are necessarily pragmatic, and wilderness education is diametrically opposed to postmodern exodus from the world.

Assuming a reputable teacher, wilderness education broadens your horizons in many ways: where before there were "only trees", a separate microcosm opens up; they get to know their own body again, which developed in adaptation to this wilderness; they learn in practice that our civilization originated from nature and cannot survive without it. They develop self-confidence: if the engine strikes, the smartphone fails and there is no kiosk nearby, they can collect food, start a fire and build a shelter. Above all, you will find the connection to the living environment.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Moritz Busching: Adventure education in the field of nature and wilderness education, AV Akademikerverlag, 2014
  • Hans-Joachim Schemel and Torsten Wilke: Children and Nature in the City, Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), (accessed October 13, 2019), BfN
  • Marina Robb, Victoria Mew, Anna Richardson: Learning with Nature - A How-To Guide to Inspiring Children Through Outdoor Games and Activities, UIT CAMBRIDGE LTD, 2015

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