“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.” – Richard Louv, author Last Child in the Woods
There’s been a lot of news coverage lately about the crisis of childhood obesity and its connection to disease, early onset of puberty, and even national security. In addition, we are facing major environmental crises (BP oil spill, floods, fires, climate change, water shortages) and an economic recession that is demonstrating without a doubt that “all things are connected”. How can we ever hope to solve all these issues? We can start by getting kids outdoors more often – to move, to learn, to get connected to the planet that supports us all. Here are five programs that can help get kids outdoors this school year:
- NWF’s Schoolyard Habitats® program: The National Wildlife Federation offers assistance and a variety of resources to schools to develop outdoor classrooms on campus that attract wildlife and provide places for kids to study and learn. Imagine the thrill students get when wildlife begins to appear in the habitats they create. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also has a school yard habitat program and guide.
- Farm to School program connects kids to their food by forming partnerships between local farms and schools to provide nutritious food for school meals as well as lessons on nutrition and agriculture, including starting school gardens and helping kids understand where their food comes from and how it impacts their bodies as well as the local community. Agriculture, community, food, health, economy – lots of connections here. Or just start a class garden.
- The GLOBE Program – Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) “is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program”. Students, teachers and scientists work together to collect and share data during inquiry-based investigations of the environment. Partners include NASA and NSF Earth System Science Projects (ESSP’s). I did this program with K – 5th graders way back in its infancy in 1995 and it was a fabulous way to get kids involved in real science.
- Clean Up the World Weekend (September 17 – 19, 2010) – a partnership between Clean Up the World and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to inspire and assist communities to “clean up, fix up and conserve their local environment” through projects ranging from waste removal and tree planting to water and energy conservation projects. A similar event is the
International Coastal Cleanup: September 25, 2010 which promotes community-organized cleanups of rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water as well as coastlines. Check your area for local projects that your students can join or organize one yourself. The kids can use the data for all kinds of projects all year long.
- Project WILD, Project WET, and Project Learning Tree. Many of these environmental education activities can be done outdoors in the schoolyard and all are correlated to national education standards.
Of course, field trips to local nature centers, parks, urban gardens, farms, creeks, woods are all great places for kids to get out, learn, move and get connected to life while learning. Even sitting under a tree outside the classroom to read that library book is a good start.
For those wondering how to find time to get kids outdoors and still make the grade for NCLB, here’s some research that shows “Nature-Smart Kids Get Higher Test Scores“. More information and research about reconnecting children with nature can be found at the Children & Nature Network.
Update: August 23rd, 2010
Here’s a recent article from Backpacker magazine online about 10 innovators who are getting kids outdoors – Last Child on the Couch.