Sharing nature: Local educator teaches participants how to experience world around them |

Sharing nature: Local educator teaches participants how to experience world around them

Joseph Cornell works with a participant in a Sharing Nature program.
Courtesy photo |

Joseph Cornell, a Nevada County resident since 1975, is world-renowned as a nature educator and author.

His first book, “Sharing Nature with Children,” was published in 1979 and has sold more than 600,000 copies. Since then, he’s continued to write numerous works while also establishing his own organization, Sharing Nature Worldwide.

Cornell has been a nature enthusiast for as long as he can recall. One of his fondest childhood memories, he says, was watching a flock of snow geese fly over his home in Yuba City. He also remembers taking trips up Highway 49 to fish on the Yuba River.

“I always really resonated with nature from a young age,” he said.

“During the time of the Vietnam War, I wanted the world to be peaceful, so I first started out in college majoring in international relations. But then I realized world peace wasn’t going to be something that was easy, because people have their self-interests,” Cornell said.

“Then I remembered the real deep peace I felt in nature and I thought, ‘This is something real that you can get to people.’ There are some really profound experiences people can have if they spend time alone in the wilderness. So I changed my major to nature awareness.”

He would eventually create his own Bachelor of Science degree program in nature awareness at California State University, Chico, giving students in the major “more of an intuitive (and) scientific understanding of nature.”

He also began creating games and activities based around teaching participants about nature. Many of the games, he said, were designed to help illustrate important natural concepts.

One of the more popular activities, which Cornell calls the camera game, requires two willing individuals.

“One person is the camera with their eyes closed and the other person plays the photographer and leads the camera person around. (The photographer) points them to a beautiful setting and taps their shoulder twice to have them open their eyes. They get to look for three seconds before closing their eyes,” he explained.“We’ve had people that actually remember the photograph that they took in their minds for six or eight years. They just have an experience of what it’s like to truly see. It’s just a great activity, and everybody is really enlightened by it.

“So it’s not just about profound experiences; it’s also about well-rounded experiences of nature where you understand with your head and with your body and also with your heart,” he added.

Cornell started writing about these recreational activities in 1976, gearing his first book toward children.

“Children naturally are attuned to nature, when they are very young and sensitive and love nature. There are also the ceiling years for children where you can help a child keep their sense of wonder and awe and respect for life,” he said.

“If you don’t reinforce that, it’s an opportunity that’s missed and then you have people where it’s hard to put that back in. They missed that stage of development.”

“Sharing Nature with Children” wasn’t expected to be a huge success, according to Cornell. It was published locally at Ananda, and little money went to its advertising budget, he said. But the book became a hit, not only in the United States, but internationally as well.

It has been translated in more than 20 languages, “and is in virtually every corner of the world,” Cornell said.

“It takes a lot to write a book, and you start to think your reality should start becoming everybody’s reality … because you’re just living in the book. But I was really surprised that it took off like that, because I was just living very simply here. It just really spread on a grassroots level,” the author said. “I think the reason why was because it made learning fun and experiential. At that time, people had a more intellectual approach where you talk about nature and people listen. They were just starting a more experiential approach in the movement. ‘Sharing Nature with Children’ gave people a lot of ideas they could use and be successful with. They said it started a worldwide revolution in nature education.”

Since his rookie effort was met with enthusiasm from adults as well as children, his second book, “Listening to Nature,” expanded the scope of his teachings to all age groups. He took it a step further, founding the Sharing Nature Foundation.

The nonprofit aimed to create new resources for those interested in sharing nature with others and to provide training and online classes, Cornell said. He also established the Flow Learning program, which gathered his activities and structured them into organized lessons taught by instructors.

With the success of his books to back it, the foundation has flourished, spreading to other nations and prompting a name change to Sharing Nature Worldwide.

“It’s more of a movement, and we do have other country coordinators. Like in Japan, for example, we have the Sharing Nature Association of Japan and they have over 10,000 members. They’ve been going since 1986,” he explained. “Some countries are more organized, like Japan. Most of them have a core leadership, like in South Korea. Then, in other places it’s more like a grassroots movement like in Germany. It’s as big as Japan but it’s not structured. It’s not administrative heavy.”

Cornell recently published two more works with Nevada County-based Crystal Clarity Publishers, “The Sky and Earth Touched Me,” and an extensive revision of “Listening to Nature.”

He is also planning to release a rewritten version of “Sharing Nature with Children” and its sequel, “Sharing the Joy of Nature,” in a comprehensive volume.

Cornell says the rewrites are important as he continues to flesh out his Flow Learning method, and claims he’s rewritten nearly every line for the new release.

“I know a lot more about writing now than in 1976. I’ve developed new exercises, and I have a new understanding of why the activities work,” Cornell said.

“I would like to inspire (my readers) in terms of the potential nature has to teach us and the power of the natural experience so that they would go out and experience nature in a more profound way,” he added.

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Spencer Kellar is an intern with The Union. He can be reached at

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