The science (and policy) of getting kids outdoors
Ryan Summerlin October 5, 2010
Part of our mission at Keystone Science School involves adventure: specifically, getting our students and campers outside, interacting with each other and creating a sense of connection between child and the natural environment. In this age of 24-hour television programming, handheld video games and smart phones, however, turning kids’ attention from video screens to the outdoors is an unprecedented challenge. As global technology creeps ever more steadily into the smallest crevices of our lives, many fear that human connection to the environment will only continue to dwindle.
In 2005, Richard Louv, particularly concerned with the effect of this trend on children, published “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” painting a bleak picture with comparisons of his childhood (running through the woods behind his house) to that of today’s kids (running to the couch to be the first to reach the remote control). He also cited dismal verdicts of research on the effects of “screen time” on children in relation to depression, obesity and Attention Deficit Disorder.
As unpleasant as Louv’s findings were, they had the positive effect of sparking lively debate and jolting the issue to national attention of the public, the private sector, and federal and state legislators. In 2009 Congress amended the No Child Left Behind Act with the No Child Left Inside Act, providing funding for teachers to utilize the natural environment in their classroom teaching, allowing environmental education to be integrated across all subjects, and providing incentives for states to implement “environmental literacy plans.”
Here in Colorado, we’re luckier than many states in that we live in a place that inspires people of all ages to get outside and appreciate the natural beauty around us. We’re proud that Keystone Science School, in partnership with Summit School District, offers every child in the district the opportunity to participate in programs and have the chance to experience the fun, adventure, and connection with nature that comes with learning outside the classroom. We’re also lucky to have local legislators who support this type of education (as evidenced by the passing the Colorado Kids Outdoors Act, which makes Colorado eligible for federal education funding). To see a real shift, however, this effort will require energy on all levels, from individual homes to Congress.
How can you help? First, be a good role model and encourage outdoor activity – get outside with your kids/grandkids/neighbor kids and play a game of tag, look for animal tracks on a hike, talk about what kind of trees and flowers are native to our area, or seek out constellations in the night sky. On a larger scale, you can make your voice heard at the state level. Currently, the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education (CAEE) is developing an environmental literacy plan for Colorado’s Department of Education. This plan will create a coordinated strategy between PreK-12 teachers and environmental education providers in Colorado to, among other things, restore and increase field experiences as part of the school curriculum; improve state-wide access to existing environmental education programs and materials; and make connections with state education standards and requirements to support classroom instruction. As they craft the plan, CAEE is asking for public feedback; visit www.caee.org to tell them what you think.
This is an exciting time of opportunity for children, families, and policy decision-makers. We hope you’ll join us in the effort to provide our youth with opportunities and strategies to increase their connection to the natural world. Take notice and get involved!
Dave Miller is Director of School Programs at Keystone Science School. For more information on our programs please visit us online, www.keystonescienceschool.org or call us 970-468-2098.