Natalie Moutafis talks with author and psychologist Megan de Beyer about the benefits for families in getting back to nature, Shane Green talks with ISV Chief Executive Michelle Green about ISV’s poetry competition for students and the power of the spoken word, and St. Margaret’s Berwick Grammar School student Mia Mastroianni shares her poem about her pet dog, Max.
Timestamps for each of this episode's discussion
Shane talks with Michelle about ISV’s poetry competition: 0:39
Nat talks with Megan about getting back to nature: 6:36
Mia reads her poem, ‘Max’: 23:16
Links to things discussed during the episode
Note: isPodcast is produced for listening and is designed to be heard. We encourage you to listen to the audio, as it includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. While every care is taken, our transcripts may contain errors.
Hi everyone. And welcome back to isPodcast, ISV’s show for schools and the wider community. I'm Michael Broadstock.
Today, Natalie Moutafis talks with author and psychologist, Megan de Beyer, about the benefits for parents and children in getting back to nature. But first, Shane Green talks with ISV Chief Executive Michelle Green about the first full term back at school, ISV’s poetry competition for students, and the power of the spoken word.
Michelle, we're well into Term 2, but looking back to the end of Term 1, there was a real sense of, we made it one whole full term.
We did. And so many of the principals and the teachers that I spoke to whilst there'd been this uncertainty and challenges faced by schools – actually, when we got to the end of Term 1 – people were quite proud of the fact that we had made it and that we had faced challenges along the way, but those challenges were not showstoppers.
So, a lot of tired people at the end of Term 1, and I'm sure many of the students and the parents were tired as well, but lots of people feeling just quietly comfortable that, whatever had been thrown at us, we were able to deal with it. And that was good for me, because ISV and my staff, we've all been supporting schools over this COVID time. It was good for us to know that the support that we were giving was not only timely, but it was also appreciated.
Michelle, Term 2 means we're also back with our annual student poetry competition.
Yes, Shane. And I'm so pleased about this. It's in its third year and it's great to see us going from strength to strength.
It's always such a highlight, isn't it?
It certainly is for me. And I love the theme of this year, which is ‘belonging’. Over the last couple of years, we've done ‘hope’ and we received some fantastic poems around that theme, and then ‘joy’. But this year, ‘belonging’, it's just something that we really feel strongly about.
Michelle, I know you're a big fan of poetry. And one of your favourite poets is Emily Dickinson. Now there's a particular Dickinson poem that talks about belonging.
Yes. When I think about belonging, I think about it touching on a deep need, which we all have, to be part of something bigger. Belonging shapes our relationships with other people and who we are.
Emily Dickinson captured this in one line. "I imagine, therefore I belong and am free." I am a great fan of Dickinson. I'm a great fan of poetry. I am really looking forward to what it is that our young poets write. And I think, as it has been in past years, I think it'll be quite humbling to consider belonging from the perspective of our young poets.
We've also an exciting new category for the competition this year – performance poetry – and we've taken some inspiration from Amanda Gorman, who recited a poem, The Hill We Climb at the inauguration of US president Joe Biden last year. Let's listen to some of that remarkable performance.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Michelle, can you recall when you first heard and saw that and your thoughts at the time?
I do. And it's still, when I hear this, I get chills up my spine. To my knowledge, it's the first time that performance poetry has been at a ceremony of that type. And when words are spoken, they gain a power beyond the page. And I think that we see this listening to The Hill We Climb. It's a powerful poem to read, but when it's performed, it goes beyond itself. And yeah, as I say, I still get chills up my spine whenever I see it.
Michelle, do you read poetry out loud?
Quite often, actually. Not only do I read poetry out loud, but I recite it, because like many of us, I have lots of poetry in my head. When I hear our student poets and I see them reciting their poetry, it makes me feel humbled because you know, that the words mean something to them.
That when we read them, they mean something to all of us. But when you see them spoken with emotion, the emotion of the person who wrote those words onto a page, then you realise that it is a transformative power, not just transformative for the person that writes the poem, but transformative for those who hear it and read it.
I think it's going to be a really exciting addition to the competition. I can't wait to see and hear the entries.
Neither can I, and I'm holding myself ready for lots of different experiences and lots of excitement.
Michelle, great to have you back on isPodcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you, Shane. It's a pleasure.
We'll include links to the student poetry competition in the show notes, and a reminder of course, that entries close on the 27th of May.
Megan de Beyer is an integrative psychologist with over 30 years' experience. She's well known for her book and online courses: How to Raise a Man, a Modern Mother's Guide and has worked with many schools around the world. Her work integrates Eastern and Western psychologies and holistic ecology. Natalie spoke to Megan about how parents can get back to nature with their kids.
Hi, Megan, and welcome to isPodcast. Last year, we shared an article of yours on The Parents Website, which we'll link to in the show notes. And it was all about surrendering to nature and how parents could encourage their children to get outdoors.
Put simply, the message is that in getting back to nature, we reconnect with ourselves and our children and the world around us. And you cover this in your book, but you also take it a step further saying that parents can learn from nature's principles. Can you explain that a little more about how nature can help us to parent?
Megan de Beyer:
Oh, what a fabulous question. Hello, Natalie. I'm so happy to be here and very happy to talk on this subject. Nature certainly saved me through our very strict lockdown in South Africa, and I know Australia, and South Africa, and New Zealand often share very similar weather. So, we have great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. And even if it is just sitting in a little patch of sun outside our back door, if that's all we can do is look up at a blue sky or sit under the stars at night. So, it certainly was something that nourished me, I would need to use that word.
But in saying that it's important to know that I went back to university late in life and I studied a master's in ecology. So, I truly am an eco-psychologist because I have both those Masters. So, I am able to speak well in this subject. It's not just from my own personal experience. It's also from really studying climate change and the principles of nature.
So, if we could draw from nature's wisdoms and use nature as a mentor, surely nature can then tell us some parenting skills and some parenting principles. And, of course, when I say that to parents, they look at me and roll their eyes and say: "Well if we followed a lioness we would actually, we'd really be just sort of leaping on our children and growling and biting them!”
So, when I talk about following nature's principles, it's not about just looking at the animals and watching how they parent, but more than that, what are these principles of nature?
So, one of the first for me, that's powerful is everything's always in relationship. Everything in nature is always, so if you just looked out your window right now and you could see a pot plant, you might pick up that there's a little weed in the pot plant, and that plant is adapting to the weed, or the weed is adapting to the plant. And also, the plant is leaning out towards the sun. So, all things in nature are growing towards the light, but there are also totally, always in relationship.
Now, why would that be important to us as parents? Because we tend to get tunnel vision and we get kind of really locked down into focusing on our family and our children and that the mum's the most important thing, or dad's the most important thing. And therefore, our relationship with our children is the most important thing.
And if we take an example of nature, particularly our pre-teens and our teenagers are searching for connection and relationship outside of the home. And that is natural. It is part of this evolutionary impulse that they need to connect. And all relationships are important, their relationship with their school, with the culture, with their environment, with their friends and all of those are influencing how a person grows in their values and how they move towards maturity.
So, the advice here is not to kind of get locked down into seeing our homes and our environment is completely separate. And the only thing that impacts on our kids.
The other thing is that resilience occurs in diversity. So, in nature, there's so much diversity. There's so much diversity in any ecosystem because of all the different natural elements. And we can learn from that as well and not think our children are exposed to something that is against our values or our, our children exposed to something that's a challenge or a struggle.
We, we tend to sort of try and overprotect them and protect them too much. Whereas nature is saying we learn and we grow resiliency from the experiences we have and the diversity. So, it's not just about the values we put down in our home, but when our children are challenged by other people's ideas, opinions, values, it helps them to develop resiliency because what they discover is different ways of being and different ways of adapting. Because, of course, one of the greatest principles of why nature is so resilient is this ability to adapt.
So isn't that a huge lesson for us is not to be so rigid in our thinking and thinking everything has to be done this way. We've got to allow ourselves to be adaptive. And especially as our kids grow, their personalities may be different to us. Their temperaments may be different. And we can't sort of try to channel them into being a mini-me. We can become quite sort of rigid in our thinking. And so, nature's saying no, be more adaptive.
And of course, the greatest thing is being able to come present to our situations and present to what's in front of us and trying not to get too caught in what was happening in the past or what could possibly unfold in the future, really be as present as we possibly can.
So, when you say being present is this where we're saying to parents to get off the device that they're holding or actually connect and look at your child and...
Megan de Beyer:
It really is one of the greatest challenges that we have as parents today, is online usage. Firstly, us, I mean, look, what are we doing right now?
It's got a place, but it's not going away.
Megan de Beyer:
Natalie. It is such a challenge because we, as parents are telling our little ones, just go play a game or watch a show, whatever, because we needed just that gap to get our own work done.
So, we are using devices as au pairs, they become au pairs and our kids become so sort of drawn and unengaged. And then at least we kind of feel well and we know they're safe. They’re in the lounge and they're safe and I can quickly make the evening meal.
We are overusing devices to entertain and care for our children, but it's understandable because let's face it – we've been in these radical lockdowns, what else can we do in order to keep our own lives going and our own work, going?
Speaking to so many parents all over the world and the greatest challenge was children are now using well, especially pre-teens and teens, were using their laptops and their phones for education purposes and online schooling. And then on top of it, teenagers were gaming a lot. Why? Because the impulse with teenagers and pre-teens is to connect with their friends.
And that was the only way they had...
Megan de Beyer:
It is, as I said, that evolutionary impulse. They've got to move from the core of the family and just being dependent on the family to discovering their peer group. So, they were doing that through gaming, through Instagram, through TikTok, through online platforms so that they could have a sense of engagement and belonging to their own clan and discover what their clan was doing.
So, of course, we are at an all-time high with, online usage, which then draws us away from nature. And even if we say to our kids, let's watch Discovery Channel or let's watch nature channel on TV together. Yes, that's beautiful. That's wonderful. But notice how nature becomes entertainment and nature doesn't become an experience.
As human beings, we developed and adapted to the natural world. Our bodies, our minds, the way our eyes work, the way our emotional system work, our nervous system work, is geared for the natural world. We developed over, really, thousands and thousands of years in wilderness settings and our bodies and our brains grew and adapted as we evolved through the natural systems.
And now we’re all online, indoors, in hard surfaces and it’s affecting not only our mental health, it's affecting our bodies. On the psychological side, we are seeing an incredible rise in anxiety. And the studies are out there that the more kids are spending online, the more attention deficit we are seeing, the more we are seeing anxiety rise.
Of course, we know the benefits. There are creative benefits of screens, and there's certain games that do stimulate the brain into higher order thinking and problem solving. But continual usage – too many hours on a screen and any one day and no outdoor time – it's causing eye problems, it's causing that increases in attention deficit, it's causing anxiety to rise, it's causing the kids to be continually in this fight and flight.
We know that the brain areas that are lighting up, during social media usage, as well as game usage are the lower, deeper, parts of the brain. And those are things that stimulate emotion and stimulate survival emotions like fear and flight and fight.
So, we know that the brain is operating in its sub region and not in its highest regions, which is the prefrontal cortex. So, the prefrontal cortex is where we operate, with deductive thinking, with setting intentions, with being able to regulate our emotions.
And that requires quieter time, less stimulated time in order for us to access our high region. So that's why, if you needed to think something through, go for a walk in nature, just get outside, go for a walk, look at the trees, look, smell the roses, so to speak, and you can better solve a problem because it calms the brain and the nervous system down. And so, your higher order thinking your prefrontal cortexes can connect into your contemplation more readily.
So, screens are a huge problem. They're not going away. What's going to happen to us? I think we are going to have to really make sure that we get our kids, our pre-teens and our teenagers outdoors, but how do we do that?
Because certainly in my upbringing, it was simply “Get outdoors!” My mother thought there was something wrong with me, if I was indoors. That was the afternoon, the weekend, the holidays – “Get outdoors!”.
Yeah. It's very different.
Megan de Beyer:
And you weren't given anything, it was just like play with the hose pipe. So, we'd make up all sorts of games. And we were also allowed to do things, like make fires and with adults supervision, but these days, we point out all the dangers of the outdoors.
So, why have we become fearful of the very environment that we grew up in? We'll put a, "We can't walk on the long grass, there's snakes – Can't climb a tree, you're going to fall!”
Trying to avoid places where there're flowers or mosquitoes or, and we've become so over sensitised to pointing out the dangers, the discomforts and the fears, whereas in actual fact, our bodies were adapted and developed in all those natural environments.
But let me come back to the benefits of outdoors and what we can possibly do.
Okay. So, we can't just these days say get outdoors. That is not going to cut it. We ourselves have got to find what is the best way for ourselves to connect to outdoors as parents, because we have to lead by example.
So, let's be honest with ourselves and begin to find those things that we love about the outdoors. Is it great views? Is it hiking? Is it going for a run? Is it mountain biking? There's that aspect we can do then the other more contemplative things like sketching, journaling, leaf, pressing, flower pressing – things like that we can take up as a hobby and begin to encourage our kids to do it.
And it's even taking some of those indoor activities that you wouldn't normally sit at the kitchen table, for example, and take that outside so that you're doing that same activity, but you're doing it in nature.
Megan de Beyer:
Oh yes, Natalie. Yes, yes, yes. And it's a bit of an effort for us, but you know, let's get geared up to do that. Let's have supper outdoors, take your picnic blanket, set up outdoors. I did that with my kids.
My boys have grown up completely and utterly outdoors. I made sure that we were always outdoors. We were making kites. We were making bows and arrows from vines. We were star watching. At night, sometimes even on a school night, I'd say let's take sleeping bags and go and lie on the grass – it's such a beautiful night – and watch the stars. And I would literally, we'd all lie there till we fell asleep. Of course, then it's schlep because then I've got to carry them inside to sleep. But it was worth it, because we had the fresh air and let's not forget that this beautiful, fresh air really purifies us. The sunlight is good for vitamin D. Sunlight is good for depression.
So, here is the thing that's going to encourage all parents. Do you know that there are studies showing that just by spending 10, 15, 20 minutes in nature a day for children increases their empathy and wait for it – responsibility – can you believe it?
But their empathy bone increases as well as their responsibility bone. And of course, with climate change affecting us, we've got to remember that children will not save what they don't love. So, it's kind of a responsibility to our generation to help children, pre-teens, teenagers begin to love nature.
Lastly, I just want to say we are all longing for connection, belonging, meaning. Oh, my word! We’re just longing for that. Do you know everything that's been going on just has caused such despair in our hearts and such a heaviness.
And we’re longing for connection, belonging, meaning – and nature does that. So just take off your shoes. Go sit on the grass. Take that extra time to really look at a starry sky, the flowing stream, jump in some cold water. Look out into the distance, to the horizon, to the sky, to the clouds, to the trees. Listen to the birds. And let's lead by example in that.
Well, thank you so much.
And that's it for this edition of isPodcast. We're going to leave you with St. Margaret Berwick Grammar school student Mia Mastroianni, who won the Prep – Year 2 category of our poetry competition last year with her entry, Max. The competition judges said Mia's fresh take on the life of a pet dog has a ‘unique way of making you smile’.
Hi, my name is Mia Mastroianni and I'm in Grade two. My school I go to is St. Margaret’s Berwick Grammar School. This poem’s all about my pet dog, Max.
Our pet dog’s name is Max
He thinks he is a human
He runs away when he sees dog food,
because he thinks it is not that good.
He loves to eat toast in the morning.
And if my mum feeds him rice and chicken,
He licks the bowl again and again.
At times he is annoying,
when we take him for a walk
or if we go to the park.
All he does is growls and bark.
He would prefer to lie down happily.
Watching the birds flying freely.
My nanna couldn’t understand
Why the birds are his friends?
Our pet dog Max
thinks he is a human.
isPodcast is brought to you by Independent Schools Victoria, and is presented by Natalie Moutafis, Shane Green and me, Michael Broadstock. Our podcast theme was composed and performed by Duncan McLean. You can find transcripts of our shows with links to what we've discussed @podcast.iseducation.com.au .