A Sense of Place: Getting to Know Your Surroundings

By — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010
If we are to have peace with the planet, children and adults must become more familiar with the land and resources near where live. The person who knows the land and its inhabitants is the one who will care about natural resources, native plant and animal diversity, and natural beauty.
There is a cost to being in close touch with your local environment: you may realize what we have already lost and what we are still losing. Aldo Leopold, the legendary ecologist and writer, said it best, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives in a world of wounds.” The more you understand about how the earth works - its past history, inhabitants, processes, and interactions – the sooner you will recognize when something isn’t right. As you get to know your world you will know what is being lost, you will see changes, you will feel the loss, and you will know where action is needed. You will be able to educate others and base your arguments to policy makers on knowledge, experience, and facts. That is precisely why all adults and children should have a good “sense of place.”

The Benefits of Paying Attention to Nature

The more you know about your bit of the planet the more you will want to live more lightly on the land. Many people feel that the most meaningful thing they have done for the earth is something they have done close to home, like:

  • Preserve a local wetland.
  • Take a group of children on a nature walk.
  • Shop and eat locally.
  • Plant native trees in a local park.
When you focus on your own community, you can make a big difference. It is good to remember that when you take care of your own creek, you change the world downstream.


Questions to Ask and Answer to Better Understand Your Environment

Start by getting to know the place in which you live.

  • What are the rock layers beneath your feet? How did they get there? Do they contain fossils?
  • What do fossils tell us about ancient environments of the place? Was there a warm, shallow sea there?
  • What influence did the ancient sea have on today’s world?


Glaciers were the most recent great continental ice sheet in North America. 

  • Was it covering your backyard, your school ground?
  • How long ago was it there and where did it come from?
  • How deep was the ice and how fast did it move?
  • What impact did the glacier have on today’s landscape?


  • What is a watershed?
  • How high is your home or school above sea level?
  • What does the water carry with it on its journey to the sea?
  • If all the water is flowing into the sea, how does it get back to your home or school?  


What did your county look like at the time of European settlement 200 years ago?

  • How much land was covered by forest?
  • What trees and other plants grew there?
  • Why are the native plants so important to your home or school area, and what can you do to preserve them?
  • Which plants in the woodland near your home or school can you eat or use as medicine?
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