Two children having an adventure, climbing and stepping in a river exploring a beautiful natural area.

Place-Based Education

Place-Based Education (PBE) is intentionally designing learning experiences in the natural, cultural, and or built environment.

Place-Based Education (PBE) w/ Dr Paul Bocko (Antioch University) | CTRH! 2023 – YouTube
Place-Based Education (PBE) w/ Dr Paul Bocko (Antioch University) | CTRH! 2023 – YouTube
Place-Based Education (PBE) w/ Dr Paul Bocko (Antioch University) | CTRH! 2023

Place Based

When children have a storied relationship with a place, when they know its history and understand the flora and fauna that call it home, they care.

Take It Outside. Exploring Place-Based Learning and Risk | by Abe Moore | Medium

It is important to reemphasize that Indigenous knowledge and teachings are described as place based. This means that every Indigenous tribe, pueblo, or community has their own unique ways of thinking and managing their landscapes. Place based for Indigenous peoples goes more in depth than just an enclosed natural place. It broadens to the landscape, and this more holistic lens is embedded among Indigenous knowledge systems.

Everything is interconnected, even during our environmental and climate justice movements. We do not just advocate for our rights and natural resources, as it should be if we were applying this systems thinking into our ways of knowing. We also advocate for language, gender, spirituality, and everything else that is integral to our identity as Indigenous peoples. Everything is interconnected ultimately to our environment through our cultural values and ways of knowing.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science

In the times we find ourselves in, with the crashing of ecosystems, dying out of fish and trees, change and destabilization of climate, our relationship to place and to relatives—whether they have fins or roots—merits reconsideration.

Indigenous peoples are place-based societies, and at the center of those places are the most sacred of our sites, where we reaffirm our relationships.

Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth

To name sacred mountain spirits after mortal men, who blow through for just a few decades, is to denude relationship.

We need to regain the sense of wonder that comes from being deeply interconnected in a sacred way.

Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth
Composite photo of Canadian Rockies
Winter Is Coming” composite photo of Canadian Rockies by Ian Markauskas

Civic Engagement

The heart of participation is actively involving local people in decisions that affect them

.Placemaking with Children and Youth by Victoria Derr

One of the main goals of place-based education is to help raise citizens who understand how everyone and everything in a community is interconnected. Place-based education extends learning into both nature and the human-made aspects of a community. Learning revolves around environment, culture, economics, and governance.

Civic engagement is central to this approach. By working to make a difference in the places where they live, students develop civic knowledge, skills, and values while gaining even more motivation to make a difference.1 This process imparts a sense of responsibility and encourages young people to be stewards of natural and cultural resources. It may also inspire them to propose and enact solutions to public problems.2 Students can work both as individuals and as a part of collective efforts to bring positive change to the public sphere while deepening their understanding of the democratic process and how they are connected to the people and places around them.

In addition to civic engagement, students work to meet the needs that exist in their community through service learning (figure 1.1). These projects are not designed solely by the teacher but in collaboration with partner organizations and agencies. Service has many faces; students may research local history, collect data on neighborhood trees, plant snowberries, paint murals, or influence city policy. In all of these examples, though, young people become active, giving members of the community.

Bringing School to Life : Place-Based Education Across the Curriculum

Educational Approaches

The place-based model overlaps and even incorporates several other educational approaches. It is helpful to define them briefly to see more clearly where they intersect and how they are different. (The following is adapted from Learning to Make Choices for the Future: Connecting Public Lands, Schools, and Communities through Place-Based Learning and Civic Engagement” by Delia Clark.)

  • Environmental Education: This can be any form of curricular materials or programs aimed at teaching students about the natural environment and how humans can take a more responsible, informed role in how we interact and care for the earth. As mentioned above, place-based education takes this platform and extends it to all aspects of a place, including the cultural, social, and economic.
  • Project-Based Learning/Problem-Based Learning: Through project-based learning, students delve deep into a topic or a problem, often identified by the students. These projects can involve fieldwork, group/team work, and extensive research and problem-solving. Projects usually culminate in a product or presentation made by students for the class or school community. Place-based education’s approach closely overlaps with project-based learning. A couple of differences are that place-based projects are rooted in the community and local issues (which is not necessarily the case for project-based), and place-based projects aim to incorporate civic education and service.
  • Experiential Learning: Through this approach, students engage in direct experiences as opposed to just reading or hearing about other people’s experiences. When students reflect on these experiences, new skills and attitudes develop. Place-based education is a kind of experiential learning, using the community as the basis for experience.
  • Community-Based Learning: Using this method, students employ experiential learning, lifelong learning, service learning, and other strategies to access learning opportunities throughout their school, neighborhood, and wider community. Place-based education strives to establish a similar context for learning with the goal of developing civic responsibility and stewardship.
  • Youth Voice: Many approaches to education, including project-based learning and service learning, value youth input as an essential component of harnessing interest and establishing student ownership. This could mean students help to choose, implement, and/or evaluate a project. Through this process, young people can find their voice and recognize that they have the power and the right to participate in even larger projects and decisions. Including youth voice in public decision making is a priority for place-based education.
Bringing School to Life : Place-Based Education Across the Curriculum

Reciprocal Ethical Unity

According to Barry Lopez, a framework for developing a lasting connection to place should go beyond function or beauty. Lopez posits three qualities are required, paying intimate attention, creating a storied relationship rather than a purely sensory awareness, and engaging in reciprocal ethical unity.

Take It Outside. Exploring Place-Based Learning and Risk | by Abe Moore | Medium

It was through her actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original immigrant became indigenous. For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.

Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons discusses the increasingly urgent issues of global warming and climate change and points to Indigenous peoples, their core values, and their reciprocal relationships to the natural world as sources of instruction for human beings to heed in order to combat those issues.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

For Aboriginal peoples, country is much more than a place. Rock, tree, river, hill, animal, human — all were formed of the same substance by the Ancestors who continue to live in land, water, sky. Country is filled with relations speaking language and following Law, no matter whether the shape of that relation is human, rock, crow, wattle. Country is loved, needed, and cared for, and country loves, needs, and cares for her peoples in turn. Country is family, culture, identity. Country is self.

Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country.
Msit No'kmaq
For all the life
The trees
The air
This is how we end our prayer
Way ha
Way ha hey ho

Msit No’kmaq by Morgan Toney

Msit No’kmaq means “All My Relations” in Mi’kmaq.

Msit No’kmaq aims to support people in reconnecting with themselves, each other, the land, waters, and all beings…

Our Story — Msit no’kmaq

Reciprocal Protection: As Long as We Protect Nature, Nature Will Protect Us

Oftentimes, we hear the phrase that our ancestors are watching over us, but my father always told me that our animal and plant relatives are also watching over us. He always told me that as long as we protect nature, nature will protect us.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science

Taking care of nature, and nature taking care of us in return, is the greatest teaching my father has taught me. Indeed, nature protects us as long as we protect nature. This is something Western science has failed to understand or explain. Settler colonialism introduced ideologies and beliefs that nature is meant to provide us resources, to meet our needs, without requiring us to protect it as well. Nature has been described as an infinite sink, and this is what has led to overfishing, overharvesting, and essentially environmental degradation. Environmental degradation is the destruction that continues to occur in our environments. It is why our environment continues to face severe droughts, wildfires, and other natural disasters and our ecosystems continue to decline.

As long as we continue to remove ourselves from nature, nature will not be able to protect us from environmental impacts.

Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science
Painting of a human partially merged with a tree with the hands flowing into the tree and into ground
Reciprocal Protection by Heike Blakly

Natural Environment

Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. Golden green and glossy above, the stems are banded with purple and white where they meet the ground. Hold the bundle up to your nose. Find the fragrance of honeyed vanilla over the scent of river water and black earth and you understand its scientific name: Hierochloe odorata, meaning the fragrant, holy grass. In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.

Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

I could hand you a braid of sweetgrass, as thick and shining as the plait that hung down my grandmother’s back. But it is not mine to give, nor yours to take. Wiingaashk belongs to herself. So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven from three strands: indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. It is an intertwining of science, spirit, and story—old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.

Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

By building sensory connections with the natural environment people are more likely to care about and feel a closer bond with the earth.

Sensory Experiences – Sensory Trust

Organisations such as the Sensory Trust seek to find ways to make nature more accessible rather than to offer alternatives to it.

Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic

Where is nature in your room? Items sourced from nature were a central feature in the first multisensory rooms. Is nature present in your room? Are natural experiences facilitated in another way? Or has nature been lost to a world of gadgetry?

Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic

…spending time in nature connects us to each other and to our place in the world.

Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic

Cultural Environment


Built Environment




You’re either gonna change your values, or you’re not gonna survive.

Chief Oren Lyons