Learning Landscapes: Catch and Store Energy

Thinking Tools: Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Superheros are an example of how a complex, interdependent idea like “catch and store energy” can be meaningfully integrated into a child’s learning landscape…

How can the energy that is abundant in everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape be used and valued more efficiently? How can it help them nourish life and care for themselves, others, and the earth? (What about for yourself? How are you catching and storing the energy needed to nourish life of yourself, your family, and community?)

In the very first Learning Landscapes article, I wrote about how I would share more about myself and my personal journey from a more traditional educator to parent-educator who uses experiential education by design. I also want to share details of how my family integrates the values, principles, and framework of a design science called permaculture that is often applied to how we ethically design and live in our physical landscape into our learning landscapes as well.

Instead of thinking exclusively about natural resources, this framework helps us and our children learn how to value and use natural relationships. And, what is energy if not a relationship, the strength and vitality in connection with the people, things, and world around us? Once children start to see how they are connected with, and have a responsibility to, others and the earth they begin to leverage patterns in all areas of learning and life. Learning the skill of catching and storing energy is one way to enrich our natural relationships and nourish life. 

Catch and store energy is the second of 12 permaculture principles that we will explore and how they can integrate into community-based learning. In permaculture practiced in the physical landscape, these ideas are called ‘principles’ because they are believed to provide fundamental truths (or natural laws observed in ecosystems around the world) that if used can: 1) inform our beliefs, behaviors, and system of design, 2) align our values and beliefs with that of the world around us, and 3) provide the foundation for greater humanity to make decisions, take actions, and use the surplus in our lives to better care for people and the earth.

However, like all tools, people can use them ethically to restore and regenerate our lives and that of the world, or not. It isn’t the tool, but the perspective and goal of the person who uses it.

The permaculture thinking tool “catch and store energy” is more than just helping children learn about the cycle of the energy of the sun in our foods or even renewable and nonrenewable energy. These are possible directions that this thinking tool could go if there is natural interest, but what about all the other forms of “energy” – physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual, just to name a few – that are part of our lives.

How can we use the simple and yet profound phrase “catch and store energy” to ignite conversations and inquiry into how we are catching, storing, and valuing energy, not only with individual things and resources, but also with the natural relationships between and among our place, time, self, families, communities, and even the natural world?

Most everything around us like food, water, landscape, shelter, people, plants, and animals are touched by and often producers of energy in some form. Energy, at its core, is power, strength, and vitality. Just like we can capture the energy of the sun used and converted into food grown in our garden by canning, we want to learn how to catch and store energy as well as responsibly convert and use it to further the care of ourselves, others and the earth. Let me share an example of how a complex, interdependent idea like “catch and store energy” can be meaningfully integrated into a child’s learning landscape.

Currently, my son is really into superheroes – think the Hulk, Spiderman, Batman, and even the villains like Loki or the Green Goblin. So, why does the Hulk change form? He is catching and storing massive amounts of emotional energy, but it happens to be what many deem negative energy – anger, fear, frustration. Who has children or grandchildren who face similar challenges of how to ethically catch, store, and channel energy? This same interest could be used to explore other pemaculture thinking tools.

What about Spiderman and his Spidy-sense that is triggered by danger or a threat to him or others? This is a subconscious way of exploring the principle to observe and interact, but it takes a tragedy before he decides that with “great power comes great responsibility.” Do we need to wait for a full on tragedy?

What about Batman? Bruce Wayne has a ton of resources – financial, material, intellectual, social – that at first don’t bring him happiness and he simply wastes until he later loses faith in the system as it is and he takes action – not always within the bounds of acceptable societal norms. (It is worth noting that those utilizing permaculture practices in the physical landscape and consciously integrating community into education are perhaps in their own way pushing the current societal or cultural norms.) And, there is always a question in Batman’s mind as well the minds of the citizens in Gotham City about whether just because he has the know-how and resources to do what he does, should he? This internal struggle shapes him and his place in the world both as Bruce Wayne and Batman.

In order to think about our learning landscapes more holistically it might be worth thinking about moving to reflection before action. What values can you and your children take from each of these superheroes or even the villains when viewed through the permaculture thinking tool lens of “catch and store energy?” This passion has allowed my son to dig deeper into whole systems thinking of permaculture and it had nothing to do with the physical landscape.

Integrating permaculture thinking with community-based education helps children understand the ways all things, including energy, is interconnected with people, places, and things. Educational design in this way can also inspire children to learn about other forms of energy and how people are not separate from energy. Energy isn’t something that is exclusively outside of ourselves, a resource, to conquer and control. Our entire bodies, physically, mentally, and emotionally, are representations of energy, but so too is work, community, and even money. By exploring this thinking tool in the learning landscape, children explore the value of systems designed to collect and store energy resources to enrich the lives of people and the earth.

When designing our learning landscape using the thinking tools as a guide, we have a much more holistic picture of not only where our children are as people in addition to learners in the more traditional sense. We (and they) become aware of where they are going, what they need help with next, and how families, educators, and communities can help facilitate connections to the support and resources to continue on their learning path. To move to reflection before action can be challenging. One simple way to do this is to change the consciousness from which we are engaging with our children. Instead of focusing on what children are doing or learning in terms of subject, topic, or skills, ask questions that lead to reflection about natural relationships such as:

  • How are you doing (that)?
  • Why did you decide to do (that)?
How do you feel doing (that)?
How do you think doing (that) might impact other people and things?
  • What do you want to do next (with that)?
  • How is (that) related to your interests, passions, gifts, and talents?
  • What does (that) possibly mean for you, your family, friends, and our community?

This simple activity can help put you and the learner in a reflective state of mind and you will both learn more about being a learner, the process of learning, and what it means to be an educator to self, others, and within the community. Yes, designing learning landscapes in this way is a small and slow solution, but one that can transform the future and is within our sphere of influence (no matter how small or big the shoe size).

 [Photo credit: (cc) Feans]


Jen MendezJen Mendez

Jen is a wife, mother of two joyous children, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children that honors themselves, others, and the earth.

2 Comments on “Learning Landscapes: Catch and Store Energy

  1. Thank you. It is an honor to write about some of the ways that my family and I use the permaculture framework outside of the typical ways people usually think of and explore it. Whole systems thinking has changed not just “thinking” for us, but our behaviors as well. I truly believe we can transform the future if we simply change the story we are weaving each day within our families and communities.

  2. Dear Ms. Mendez, I have a great interest in the topic of permaculture and I absolutely loved this wonderful article you have written for parents and homeschoolers. Deepest gratitude for your beautiful way of bringing a principle into a very accessible form for daily life with our children. I will be sharing this. I hope I get to read more of your installments; I am very impressed and moved by your work and insight. Deepest gratitude and thanks to you!!!!

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