Learning Landscapes: Use and Value Diversity

Use and Value Diversity in the Learning Landscape

Diversity is at the core of life. Human diversity is also key to creativity, resilience and a vibrant, healthy human society. Each person, each child, is an individual with intrinsic worth and it is essential that we use and value the diversity within and between learners, among other people, and in our environment. However, bringing diversity into children’s learning landscapes and lives is often misunderstood.

In our interconnected global world educators, families, and communities are being pushed to use and value diversity. Interestingly, this is one of the thinking tools of permaculture – “Use and Value Diversity.” In the desire to serve the honorable goals of equity, tolerance and understanding, we (and our children) are often led to believe that diversity in and of itself is a desired outcome or state of being.

Diversity without regard to the natural relationships and connections between elements in our human and natural systems does not itself lead to the positive results that many imagine. When we try to change the “story” without understanding that all is in relation we can inadvertently create confusion or worse chaos.  

Diversity of Connections

What we need to strive for in our learning landscapes of children is not diversity where our children are simply exposed to many experiences but without connection. The standard educational approach to inject “diversity” into the learning landscape is disjointed and even chaotic. Separate subject areas are treated as distinct, diverse areas of study, but what is the “story” that our children are learning about diversity when we do this? Instead, seek to bring in diversity of natural, beneficial connections.

Co-creating those connections in the learning landscape as well as using, valuing and maintaining this type of diversity is a lot like planning, planting and tending to a kitchen garden. The plants we bring into the garden are not likely to persist if we do not remain involved. When dropping learning opportunities into children’s paths that may or may not take root we need to consider what relationships need to already be present or available to develop in order to have the right conditions for learning to emerge.

Think of this as preparing the soil before planting a seed. Thriving, diverse learning landscapes are grown out of the richness found in community-oriented experiential education by design.

Personalized Learning Maps

One of the ways to go about this is to start by identifying the diversity in the individual elements of the learning landscape. Sort by what is important in your children’s lives. What are children most interested in learning about, exploring, doing, building, or designing? What is at the heart of our children’s interests?

We can engage with our children in conversation even at the earliest years so that they are learning how to see patterns and make connections between what seems separate in their lives. Here is an example of how I did this with my three-year-old son:

This video was taken almost two years ago and it has been amazing to see how within 2-3 iterations this process goes from very educator guided to child led. What is important is that I provided opportunities for him to be involved in the process and honored his thoughts when designing his Personalized Learning Map. I also brought in other developmentally-appropriate experiences that enriched the connections being made, not just the things he self-identified as important.

The next step is to take some time to look for and learn about patterns. Start with the patterns seen in the natural world around us. Think carefully about which pattern(s) best represents not only the types of things your children want the Personalized Learning Map to focus on, but also the pattern(s) that capture where the child is in his/her personal development as a learner.

Look for not just patterns about what they are currently very passionate about and when they do those things, but also you want to focus on how they learn. We want the Personalized Learning Map to have words, pictures and images of things the child is most interested in. We also want the Personalized Learning Map to display these things in a way that shows the connections between as well as how the child is likely to go about learning and exploring these things.

Here is an example of what the process was like for my son:

My son’s Personalized Learning Map was based on a branching pattern to go along with his focus on forest activities. At the roots, we added a picture of our family and the forest was the trunk of the tree. His interests branched out from there to include foods, activities, and culture/habitat.

Remember, this is about developing the skills and shaping the learning landscape in a way that uses and values the diversity of natural, beneficial connections. There are so many connections and combinations of connections, so get creative. Take risks and try something new and daring. A Personalized Learning Map does not have to be done on paper. Your children could make a 3D model, make props and act it out and record it as a video, or even do something with software online. The material or program used for the end product isn’t important. The process of identifying and making connections is what is critical.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Integrating the ethics and thinking tools of permaculture like “Use and Value Diversity” into children’s learning landscapes through the mindset of connections helps them extend and enrich their understanding of themselves. It promotes whole systems thinking and an understanding of our roles and responsibilities as part of a global world. It isn’t just about seeing similarities and connections. It includes using and valuing that which is different.

When our children’s learning landscapes are designed to honor the connections between their unique interests, talents, questions and concerns, we do more than welcome diversity. We co-create relationships and build connections. Our children can then start to think about how the learning landscape is not just a path less followed, but a unique journey that is forged. Here is example of how our children’s learning grows as a result:

We can use and value the diversity in connections and relationships by first and foremost honoring our children’s voices, interests, questions and challenges. By itself, this just helps us identify the diversity in elements, but it is when we help our children make connections that diversity integrates and enriches the learning landscape. Although there are connections to be made between diverse elements, it is the connections made within ourselves, others and our natural world that can transform the future.

Help children use and value diversity of natural, beneficial connections by going beyond the just individual learner. Integrate shared learning relationships, inter-generational community-oriented and service learning, as well as numerous opportunities for unstructured, unplanned play and learning. Through this natural, beneficial diversity emerges in the learning and life landscape. In this way, perhaps we can find strength, stability and even peace in diversity.


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.

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