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Do Our Kids Have Nature-Deficit Disorder? What Educators Can Do

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Reprinted by Permission

ASCD Magazine

 

Educational Leadership

 

 

December 2009/January 2010 | Volume 67 | Number 4

Health and Learning Pages 24-30

Richard Louv

Many students today are aware of global threats to the environment but hardly notice what's happening on a more personal scale—that their physical contact with nature on a day-to-day basis is fading. So what can educators do to reverse this trend?

Become a Natural Teacher

As a first step, principals, school board members, administrators, and teachers should better inform themselves about the cognitive and other health benefits of experience with nature. The Children & Nature Network Web site (www.childrenandnature.org) has links to original research for more than 100 studies on a variety of topics—from the benefits of unstructured free play, environment-based curriculums, hands-on outdoor learning, and recess; to the need for more natural schoolyard environments; to the psychological benefits of natural settings; to nature's potential to reduce both stress and obesity.

Network with Other Natural Teachers

There are many challenges related to taking students outdoors, such as curriculum and standards integration, discipline issues, materials management, and safety. However, by networking, teachers both within and outside the United States can share ideas for getting students outdoors, support one another, and know they are not alone in their efforts. The Children & Nature Network invites educators to join its Natural Teachers Network at www.childrenandnature.org.

Teach Other Teachers

Many educators, especially new teachers, feel inadequately trained to give their students an outdoor experience. We need additional support for existing teacher-training programs, of course, but in these challenging economic times, teachers can tap other resources. For example, many wildlife refuges provide professional development programs that have been correlated to public school curriculum standards (see www.fws.gov/refuges). Robert Batemen, the Canadian wildlife artist whose Get-to-Know campaign strives to connect children to nature, suggests an informal teacher-to-teacher approach: Teacher Nature Clubs, through which teachers who are experienced in nature organize half-day hikes each month with other teachers, lending insight and enthusiasm to those with less experience in the natural world.

Green the Schoolyards

Tap the knowledge of such programs as Eco-Schools in Europe (www.eco-schools.org); Evergreen in Canada (www.evergreen.ca/en); and the Natural Learning Initiative (www.naturalearning.org) in the United States. Educators can find a list of schoolyard greening organizations worldwide, including ones in Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at www.ecoschools.com. To get started, send for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide (available at www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/schoolyd.htm), which can help teachers and students create wildlife habitats on school grounds.

Create Nature Preschools

Ensure that children begin their school years knowing the physical world firsthand. Encourag enature-based public, charter, or independent K–12 schools that place community and nature experience—not only environmental education—at the center of the curriculum. Resources include Antioch's Center for Place-Based Education (www.antiochne.edu/anei), which promotes community-based education programs and partnerships among students, teachers, and community members that support student achievement, community vitality, and a healthy environment.

Establish an Eco Club

Crenshaw High School Eco Club is among the most popular clubs in this predominately black high school in Los Angeles. Students are introduced to the natural environment through the club's weekend day hikes and camping trips in nearby mountains, as well as through expeditions to Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. Community service projects include coastal cleanups, nonnative invasive plant removal, and hiking trail maintenance. Past members become mentors for current students. The grades of participating students have improved.

Bring Nature to the Classroom

Start a Salmon in the Classroom project or a similar endeavor. In Washington State, participating students in more than 600 schools receive 500 hatchery eggs to care for in each classroom (see http://wdfw.wa.gov/outreach/education/salclass.htm). Students learn about life histories and habitat requirements and release the salmon into the streams they have studied.

Create Nature-Based Community Classrooms

Beyond the classroom and school grounds, schools, businesses, and outdoor organizations can work together to introduce students to nature centers and parks and sponsor or promote overnight camping trips. School districts can follow Norway's lead and establish farms and ranches as "the new schoolyards," thereby creating a new source of income to encourage a farming culture. As an added incentive, an outdoor classroom is much less expensive to build than a new brick-and-mortar one.

Ask Dr. Susan