Nature – it´s just one word, or is it?


My first blog entry on this page should be something special, something inspiring just like how my Science professor always inspired me.

I decided to write this about an intriguing topic – how much nature does a person need?  During my studies, this was a topic of constant relevance which I also researched on. I am now expanding my knowledge on the topic.

This blog should be scientific, practical and on a formal level. When I presented my research to the professor, it was criticized that my definition of nature was too one-sided and even unclear. This was the reason why I decided to further research all sides that the concept of nature has, I want to improve the term I once made.

After several months of research, it felt like there was over 20,000 different definitions – from a scientific side, a psychological, a cultural, also a social perspective etc.

What exactly is nature is it even possible to define it so that it is precise and understandable for everyone? It is just one word!!!

This page is especially for educators, teachers and others who are interested in exploring the topic of “education for sustainable development” with children. This should of course be scientific but also age appropriate.

No child is interested in an entire literary work on the meaning of nature. Isn´t that however the problem? During my research I often asked myself if through scientific definitions, we lose accuracy. Where is there then time for practical experience?

If I would ask children to draw a picture of nature, wouldn´t the pictures be similar by being filled with trees, flowers, animals, water, the sky, clouds etc.?

If someone speaks of nature, does everyone have a common yet insignificant meaning? Indigenous people will surely not discuss these specific terms.

The following empirical studies reinforce my observations:

  1. Trommer (1990, S. 24) examined in adults the associations with the word ‘ nature ‘:

  2. In a survey by Pohl/Schrenk (2002, S. 141) children 8-9 years were supposed to draw pictures to the term of nature, and that are the results: Meadows, blue sky, sunshine, birds.
  3. LBS Children‘s barometer – Understanding of nature according to grade levels (n=1833) (translated: LBS – Kinderbarometer 2004 (n=1833) – Naturverständnis nach Jahrgangsstufen
     4th grade5th grade6th grade7th grade
    Rank (%)Rank (%)Rank (%)Rank (%)
    Plants1 (51%)1 (60%)1 (56%)1 (70%)
    Animals / Humans2 (18%)2 (25%)2 (23%)2 (23%)
    Need for protection3 (11%)7 (5%)10 (6%)13 (4%)
    Aesthetics4 (10%)3 (10%)5 (10%)9 (6%)
    Air/Cleanliness/Tranquillity10 (5%)5 (8%)3 (12%)3 (15%)
    Waters12 (3%)13 (3%)12 (5%)5 (9%)

If there are so many different aspects/definitions of the concept of nature, then how can there only be one word for it?

This question will stay unanswered as I decided to not give a summary of the different definitions – this might not be scientifically or precise enough.

I will concentrate the individuals personal, subjective, cultural, social and community understanding. As of this I will spend my time in the practical field of nature!

Practical suggestions:

It is summer, an ideal time to go to the nursery school garden or the schools courtyard and look above. What effect does the sky, trees etc. have at this perspective. They can experience new impressions, to feel the ground, smell the air etc. How do the clouds look? What can one hear? How do they feel?

Afterwards they can reflect on the kind of things they felt in connection to nature, what do they associate with the term nature? How often are they in nature, what they like about it or even just leave an impression for them to reflect on!

If one wants to still have a broader concept of nature, then here are further suggestions:


  • Nature, in latin natura – to be born first out of ones own power (translated:Varnhorn, 2000, S. 292)
  • Nature needs to be defined by humans and also through a certain experience it has to be understood.(translated: Oldemeyer, 1983, S. 16)
  • Nature on a phenomelogical level, nature as an entire phenomenon, such as animals, plants, landscape […](translated: Gebhard, 2013, S. 40)
  • Nature as a theoretical symbol, nature viewed as a comprehensive symbol (translated: Gebhard, 2013, S. 40)
  • Each conceptual separation of human fails, that human is also natural, and allows, however, that the nature becomes the object of scientific research, […] (translated: Gebhard, 2013, S. 40)
  • Experience in nature is also a cultural experience (translated: Gebhard, 2013, S. 42)
  • There is a distant and alientated position of nature in civilized cities in which there is a lack of  real-life connection.  There is also a longing for a release of  the burden of civilized lives. This implicates a nostalgic reminiscent of an innocent childhood, wondering and being amazed how order, unity and practicality of nature is there on its own. That the civilized humans  need to be disciplined and rational. (translated: Böhme, 1989, S. 61)”