Outdoor Education this week brought the group to Wadsworth State Park to work with educator Lucy Meigs of Everyone Outside. Combining some letterboxing with hiking along trails, students identified and discussed plant life, the geology of waterfalls, and the overall ecosystem. Students donned raingear, water bottles, daypacks, and happily explored this natural environment.
Connecticut Experiential Learning Center (CELC) students spend a great deal of time learning outdoors, in all kinds of weather and all seasons. In today’s world where environmental issues are increasingly critical to life on the planet, there is real value in being outside.
In response to the “No Child Left Behind” law, many schools have cut areas of the curriculum, such as art and environmental education, and have even eliminated recess in order to spend more time on subjects that are found on state tests. Teachers are discouraged from including field-based experiences, which provide valuable opportunities for students to engage in real-world learning and problem solving, for fear of loss of instructional time geared toward tested subjects.
In 2007, the No Child Left Inside Coalition was formed to work to put environmental education and the out-of-doors back into the curriculum. This coalition is working to pass the No Child Left Inside Act of 2011, making environmental education an integral part of every American child’s education, stressing the importance of increasing the level of environmental literacy and including field experiences into regular instruction.
The coalition describes an increasing environmental literacy gap by reducing the amount of environmental education in K-12 classrooms.
Our nation’s future relies on a well-educated public to be wise stewards of the very environment that sustains us, our families and communities, and future generations. It is environmental education that can best help us as individuals make the complex, conceptual connections between economic prosperity, benefits to society, environmental health, and our own well being. Ultimately, the collective wisdom of our citizens, gained through education, will be the most compelling and most successful strategy for environmental management.
Yet studies consistently reveal that the U.S. public suffers from a tremendous environmental literacy gap that appears to be increasing rather than decreasing. For example, two-thirds of the public fails even a basic environmental quiz and a whopping 88 percent of the public fails a basic energy quiz. These same studies found that 45 million Americans think the ocean is a source of fresh water, and 130 million believe that hydropower is America's top energy source.
Author Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder”, in his book Last Child in the Woods. He links the rise in obesity, depression, and attention disorders as something that happens to young people who become disconnected from their natural environments.
A recent study found that children today spend an average of 6 hours each day in front of the computer and television but less than 4 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, leading researchers to discover a new condition specific to this current generation that they have called “nature deficit disorder”. This extreme emphasis on indoor time spent in front of screens versus outdoor play and discovery has been correlated with negative psychological and physical effects including obesity, loneliness, depression, attention problems and greater social isolation due to reduced time with friends and family.
What do increased study of science and nature and its increased outdoor time accomplish? Especially in the very young, it has proved in studies to be extremely beneficial for cognitive functioning, reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorder, and increased self-discipline and emotional well being.
Environmental education is “the study of the relationships and interactions between dynamic natural and human systems”. It connects classroom learning to the real world, employs critical thinking skills, is hands-on, inquiry driven, interdisciplinary, develops knowledge and awareness, and is relevant to students’ everyday lives.
CELC’s outdoor education experiences are a favorite of most students. While all subject areas are integrated, from compass work in math to journaling for writing to natural history, environmental education is a critical area of knowledge for future generations to understand and find solutions for resource management issues and continued environmental sustainability of our planet.