Wild Pedagogies Playfully Conceptualized – Pathways Spring 2020 32(3)

 In Wild Pedagogy

Wild Pedagogies Playfully Conceptualized  

Bob Henderson

Recently while offering a Wild Pedagogies workshop, my co-presenter made an interesting slip-up in language. She had meant to say, “meditation” when referring to some aspect of nature-based learning. However, she inadvertently slipped in the word “medication”. 

In an interesting way, both words worked in content with only subtle differences in meaning. The use of medication confirmed a strong nature therapy leaning, while, in context, meditation in nature more inferred a nature therapy leaning. This could have one thinking about language and its power to playfully and subtly, at times, influence the meanings and conceptualizing of ideas and activities.

Wild Pedagogies can and should be played with to capture its intentions in personalized ways. It is pedagogies and not pedagogy for a reason. Wild Pedagogies are not static and dogmatic. The ideology is open for interpretation within the large sweeping umbrella terms of outdoor and environmental education.

While the six Wild Pedagogies touchstones capture strong ideas to work with in our practice, they must be personalized in intention and spirit to hold. In that vein, I have tried to playfully work with the Wild Pedagogies touchstones with hopes to widen the conceptual dialogue where understandings fall short or can be further clarified. 

Rebecca Carver (1996) presented a useful conceptualization of experiential education. I think it is most useful for its brevity. She had more going on within her overall model but the core of the concept was an A,B,C easily remembered framework. 

Experiential Education can be understood as A (Agency), B (Belonging), C (Competency). 


What might Wild Pedagogies look like within a similar framework?

Wild Pedagogies can be understood as:

A = Agency

B = Belongings

C = Culture Change or Competencies for Culture Change

As one becomes more familiar with the six touchstones, you could reduce the touchstone language to Three C’s of Wild Pedagogies:

C = Control (A shift to students in thoughtful ways)

C = Complexity (Bring it back to learning against the prescriptive urge — be where the world is — outside.)

C = Culture Change (We are moving slowly and collectively away from denial — culture change is good — society must be served by education, not the other way around.)

In the 1990s, I was a huge fan of the folk-rock band Timbuk3. Remember, “The future’s so bright, I’ve got to wear shades.” They had a song called Too Much Sex, Not Enough Affection. There is a useful idea here. Sometimes, understandings are enhanced by capturing what X isn’t, with what it is. Sex vs. affection, for example. 

Wild Pedagogies can be understood as:

Too much answering. Not enough questioning. 

Too much sport. Not enough play. 

Too much risk. Not enough curiosity. 

Too much complication. Not enough complexity. 

Too much wilderness. Not enough self-willed land.

Too much known/managed. Not enough unknown/explored.

Too much arrogance. Not enough humility.

Too much human-centred. Not enough more-than-human-centred.

Too much teacher. Not enough nature. 

Too much teacher —> student. Not enough teacher <—> student.

Too much somber learning. Not enough joyous learning. 

Please feel free to add to this list.

In its simplest expression, Wild Pedagogies has been described as re-wilding education. Of course, it is more than that but re-wilding education is an effective start. What if the “RE” theme was continued.


Wild Pedagogies can be understood as:

RE-wilding education

RE-thinking wilderness as self-willed land

RE-establishing control to students

RE-embracing complexity

RE-shaping practices for culture change

RE-thinking the pace of change cognizant of time and patience


Wild Pedagogies Touchstones Distilled

The six Wild Pedagogies touchstones represent, I believe, a well thought-out collaboration of many educator conversations and various syntheses of ideas. In short, the following touchstones are a synergistic collection of thoughts articulating the actions of education reform needed to advance education in an era of climate change turmoil, ecological degradation and social inequalities. 

The six touchstones from Wild Pedagogies (2018 book) are:

  1. Nature as Co-Teacher: “…we need to be attentive to moments when our fellow co-teachers (natural places) are engaging students meaningfully.”
  2. Complexity, the Unknown, and Spontaneity: “Knowledge, if given space, is wondrously dynamic.” Embrace the teachable moment.
  3. Locating the Wild: “The wild can be found everywhere — in a range of settings — urban to rural. Seek self-willed land.
  4. Time and Practice: “Building relationships with the natural world takes time and practice.”
  5. Socio-Cultural Change: “Education has an important role to play in this project of cultural change…education is always a political act.”
  6. Building Alliances and the Human Community: “…Not only in the environmental world, but across all people and groups concerned with justice.”

The Australian Journal has a slightly different set of touchstones, and the differences are mostly in the language used. The differences are thus: 1) Agency and Role of Nature as Co-Teacher, 2) Wildness and Challenging Ideas of Control, 3) Complexity, the Unknown, and Spontaneity, 4) Locating the Wild, 5) Time and Practice and 6) Culture Change. 

I am a fan of these touchstones. They are, I believe, an articulate messaging of what is needed in current educational reform; certainly of what is needed in outdoor and environmental education. 

That said, these touchstones do not feel new to me. These sentiments have been with outdoor environmental educators, in various incarnations, for many years. What is new is a comprehensive feel to this particular packaging of reform. If these six touchstones seem overwhelming, perhaps they can be distilled without losing meaningful qualities. Such distilling of the ideas is an exercise to articulate brief, clear statements. 

So, if the touchstones, in a given movement, do not seem to be the most effective description, the following efforts are put forward as aides. They are derived largely from Jickling et al (2018) Wild Pedagogies: Touchstones for Re-Negotiating Education and the Environment in the Anthropocene

Wild Pedagogies is an educational project of experiential learning opportunities in self-willed land/places to work against the environmental degradation of the acknowledgment of the Anthropocene. This will involve a striving for guided student agency and belonging with the more-than-human world implying action-taking to work within and for this world. Such an educational project will take time, patience and must be centrally attentive to notions and actions for culture change. 

If you think this sounds like there is a struggle going on in this distilling experience, you would be correct. To continue, here are other efforts:

  • Wild Pedagogies is aimed at re-wilding education; so there is learning with place (the land and water as teacher); so that teacher and student as co-learners attend to the untamed in place and self and don’t settle for a cultural domestication. This requires making the walls around classrooms, buildings and modern Western education more permeable. 
  • Wild Pedagogies is a pluralistic project. There is not a single Wild Pedagogy. Critique of our current educational system must be paired with a vision toward ecological consciousness and sustainable socially-just initiatives. 

As for the process of dedicated Wild Pedagogies gatherings over five years now with a common core of educators adding many new voices with each gathering, one can say:

  • The Wild Pedagogies gatherings are an eco-social learning project to be a disruption from the conventional ways academics and professionals usually meet under “the conference” label. Efforts at the forefront of the Wild Pedagogies gatherings are to make meaning in a collaborative setting: that is collaborative in terms of people and place and perspective. By consciously being in-the-world, the aspiration is to do our work differently and in a more meaningful way.

As for the Anthropocene:

  • The human world, the world-for-us, is drifting toward a global situation of human extinction. In this age of human impact, ecological urgency is coming to define our times. We now live in a new geo-story, a new epoch, the Anthropocene. Educator Margaret Somerville (2018) asks, “…How is this time reconfigured, what does it mean to ask what comes after? How can we understand the time of a moment, of a day, a life, a generation in the mattering of geological time?”

Finally, when educator John Hardy presented a Ted Talk, “My Green School Dream” in 2010, he expressed his pedagogical vision for a school that would simply; 1) be local 2) let the environment lead, and 3) think about how your grandchildren would think. Hardy said of the school, “we practice wholism.” He begins his presentation with the claim that the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, ruined his life. Such was his impetus to start a Green School. Like many inspirational stories in education, there is much of Wild Pedagogies here. 



Jickling, B.  Blenkinsop, S. Timmerman, N. and De Danann Sitka-Sage, M. (2018) Wild Pedagogies: Touchstones for Re-Negotiating Education and the Environment in the Anthropocene. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.


Jickling, B. Blenkinsop, S. Morse, M. and Jensen, A. (2018) Wild Pedagogies: Six Touchstones for Early Childhood Educators.  Australian Journal of Environmental Education. 


Sommerville, M. (2018) Anthropocene’s Time Educational Philosophy and Theory. 50:14. 


Wallace-Wells, D. (2019) The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books, Penguin Random House. 


Bob Henderson, with much lifting of language from Jickling, B. et al, (2018) Wild Pedagogies text and journal article as noted above. 


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