Rachael’s research investigates the effect of environmental generational amnesia on children’s perception of food and nature.
Environmental generational amnesia is the idea that each generation in its youth perceives the condition of the environment into which it is born — no matter how developed or degraded — as normal, forgetting the natural world as it once was.
“Basically, children are regressing from the natural realm and thinking that nature is just out there, and not something that is a part of their everyday world. The more we move into urban living and dwelling and the less contact time we have with nature as kids, the less we consider ourselves a part of it,” Rachael says.
It has been suggested that more frequent interactions with nature can enhance children’s connection to and knowledge of nature and natural processes. Rachael puts this theory to the test by comparing how environmental generational amnesia manifests in children taught in Montessori and mainstream education systems.
The Montessori method is a self-directed approach to education that sees students learn through activities and play, as opposed to a traditional, teacher-led classroom.
“Montessori is an inquiry-based learning style,” Rachael says.
“It is often overlooked because it’s an alternative form of learning. But children are curious, and it allows them to move around the classroom freely and find their own niche and their own confidence within the school system. Everything is very hands-on; they do with their hands first and then they write about it.
“The school I work with is a state school in Cairns that has a separate fenced-off Montessori section that teaches the national curriculum. The Montessori students spend one day in the garden every single week and for that day all of their lessons are in the garden.”
For her research, Rachael interviewed faculty at the school she was working with to get a better understanding of the influence of gardens in schools. Following that, she asked prep and Year 1 students from the Montessori classroom and the traditional classroom to draw what they thought of when they heard the word food.
“I gave them crayons and I gave them 15 minutes to draw, and then at the end I went around and asked them exactly what they drew because sometimes it wasn’t obvious,” she says.
“I chose those year levels because before we’re seven years old, we are our most impressionable. That’s when our fundamental core values are ingrained in us. They’re also age groups that are really underrepresented. I think children need to have more of a voice in research that involves them.”