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An Intergenerational Care Game

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Originally appears in the Fall 2016 issue

“It’s not fair! Jordan always wants to be the baby! It’s his turn to be the parent and go out and look for food!”

THIS IS THE SORT of impassioned complaint that I often hear when youngsters are in the midst of a Parental Care game. Nevertheless, it’s the sort of game that they’ll ask to play repeatedly. Is it surprising that this topic vividly captures their imaginations? Given our species’ profound immaturity at birth and our abject dependency upon our elders for food, protection, and training for literally years, doesn’t it make sense that children are immensely intrigued by this subject? After all, discussions of parental care address experiences that are at the heart of their day-to-day existence as well as some of their deepest, often unnamed anxieties.

Although it can be a delicate and fraught subject within complex human societies, parental or intergenerational care is also, for many creatures, an epigenetic necessity. In other words, for numerous species (including our own) healthy, prosocial, functioning adults cannot be produced without a succession of interactions with other conspecifics: typically, at the earliest stages, their mothers and family members. Significantly, as a result of the character, range, and sequence of these inputs, varied genetic potentials and paths become activated and sculpted. This in turn leads to an array of developmental unfolding at the molecular, somatic, psychological, behavioral, and social levels. Thus parental / intergenerational care epitomizes on a macroscopic level, the powerful effects of epigenetic cascades. But beyond this, it offers a clear and beautiful example of the cooperative processes that have been so integral to biological evolution across the eons. Thus, it is a theme that we need to weave directly into our teaching if we, as environmental educators, care about provisioning our students with a truth-filled and energizing understanding of their world.

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Edith Pucci Couchman has been teaching visual arts and environmental science for over twenty-five years in southern New Hampshire. In 2014, she was named the Hillsborough County Conservation Teacher of the Year. Edith teaches an integrated visual art, gardening, and environmental science program for Infant Jesus School in Nashua, and summer programs at Beaver Brook Association in Hollis, New Hampshire.

Notes
1. Bowlby, John. A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins, 1988.
2. Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. Mothers and Others, the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.
3. Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. New York, Oxford, London: Oxford University Press, 1970 [1949]. “The Land Ethic.” p. 201-226.
4. Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 2015 [1988].

Additional References
Avital, Eytan and Jablonka, Eva. Animal Traditions: Behavioural Inheritance in Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
De Waal, Frans. Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Evolved. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006.
Mobilia, Wendy, with major contributions from Rick Gordon and the EBD Leadership Community. Education by Design, Level 1 Coaching Kit. Keene, NH: Antioch University Critical Skills Program, 1997.
Sobel, David. Beyond Ecophobia, Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education. Great Barrington, Massachusetts: Orion Press and the Myron Institute, 1996.

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