Milton Chen has a great article in the latest EduTopia titled, “Curing Nature Deficit Disorder.”

Like Milton, my wife read the book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv, the same book that inspired him to write this new article. I have written on this topic myself several times, including the post “Let’s Fight for Recess.” I am putting this post in my “Luddite” blog category, because thoughts along these lines can be perceived as anti-technology. I don’t view this line of thinking as anti-technology per se, but more BALANCED in the approaches we take toward education, child development, and life in general. Milton seems to share this view. He writes:

Fortunately, there are many organizations, including science centers and museums, zoos and aquaria, local, state, and national parks, environmental-education groups, and 4-H clubs, whose mission is to help children understand the world around them. Although Richard Louv doesn’t address it, the media and technology he blames for contributing to nature-deficit disorder can also be tools for learning about nature. Science and environmental educators have long promoted the use of student versions of the same tools scientists employ, such as temperature probes connected to laptops, global-positioning and geographic-information systems to track species, digital cameras and microscopes, and statistical software to analyze data.

Milton includes links to a good collection of websites and organizations that embody this ethic, like Globe, whose descriptive website subititle is “An exciting, worldwide, hands-on education and science program.” I linked to all of these with a new social bookmarking tag: promotingnature. Milton also has a good list of resources on page two of his article.

Any teacher worth his/her salt knows the practical need of differentiating learning: Kids are not the same! Yet unfortunately, the ridiculous political culture in which we now live has imposed requirements on teachers and administrators that attempts to deny this reality. Environmental education can help bring out abilities, interests and aptitudes in students which might otherwise remain hidden. Milton writes:

Projects that take students into nature allow them to shine in ways that would have been hidden to their teachers and classmates inside the four walls of the schoolroom. As Fritjof Capra, founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, says in GLEF’s documentary on the Edible Schoolyard, “The kid who is brilliant in math or science or language will not necessarily be brilliant in gardening. Somebody who is not very articulate but is very good with his or her hands will be very happy in the garden and will gain in prestige in the class community.”

Virtually every article I read in Edutopia is like a breath of fresh air to me, as an educator and a parent. Yes… other people get it! There IS such a thing as authentic and engaging education, and GLEF does a great job highlighting it through their articles, videos, and other publications. But it is up to us, the educators in the field, to implement these ideas and replicate best practices in other parts of the country and the world!

I love nature: I love to be in it, to camp in it, to study it, to be still in it. We need to help our students in school develop these loves as well. Sound impossible? Hardly. We just need to get our priorities back in line. And that is something we CAN do, because it involves instructional and curricular choices. I’m a staunch advocate for curricular autonomy for classroom teachers for this precise reason. As a society, we must again place our TRUST and our FAITH in professional teachers to care for and nurture our children. High stakes testing can’t and won’t produce a nurturing learning environment for my children or for yours. Only a great teacher can do that, who is empowered and supported in his/her ability to make good instructional decisions for students every day.

So let’s take a field trip! Do you think it might be something our students will remember? Chances are good. But whether or not the experience is worthwhile hinges a great deal on the TEACHERS that are involved– not just the technology or the curriculum.

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4 Responses to Curing Nature Deficit Disorder

  1. Diana says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I live in a veritable outdoor playground 80 miles from the Grand Canyon and the kids don’t go outside. There is a non-profit that the community supports called Grand Canyon Youth (www.gcyouth.org). The program assists in the cost of bringing students into the Colorado River Plateau and ecosystem. I organized a group of students that floated down the San Juan River in SE Utah last spring. We planned, we volunteered, we researched and then we floated. The transformation was unreal. Watching the students meet every challenge, work together, play and learn was one of my best moments in the past few years. As we piled back into school after four long, wonderful days on the river… a fellow teacher was there watching. She looked at me and said, “You can see it on their faces… they are different kids…” Then tonight I sat at school tonight for open house and who should waltz in but three of the river trip students from last year. They were in to catch up and see how the summer went (they are at the HS now and came in on open house night b/c they knew the old teachers would be there). Then they all looked at me and said, “Can we get on the trip next year… how can we do the trip again…”

    Now I could go on and on and on… I had a teacher take me camping in the 7th grade and it changed the course of my life. I love that I live in a community that supports a non-profit encouraging more time in nature. We also received a federal grant that pays teachers to work with kids in non-competitive athletic activities: hiking club, climbing club, mtn. biking, etc. There are ways, there are programs, there are people passionate about bringing it to the kids… but it certainly does not get the attention that it should. Please keep telling this story… it is oh, so wonderful!

  2. Gayle says:

    Hi Wes! I’m subscribed to your podcasts and have been eagerly listening to them during my commuting time. I’m a school admin who’s also in the dissertation stage of my doctorate in C & T at Teachers College in NYC. I wish you the best of luck in your new position. My apologies for not commenting on the content of your blog right now–will do so next time!

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Diana: That is a great story. My wife’s school in Lubbock had a grant that allowed them to bring many of the students (who were almost all from very low SES households) to Oklahoma for about a week of camp near the end of school, and that was a transformative event for all of them as well. I agree this is such an important story for us to tell, encourage others to act on, and act on ourselves. I remember when my own 6th grade teacher took our class out for a short hike on the outskirts of our town, in Manhattan, Kansas. It was great and SO memorable, and I had also been camping quite a bit with Scouts. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of these REAL experiences for people of all ages, but especially students with more limited life experiences and schema. How much better our tax dollars would be spent today to send kids, teachers, and parents on natural field trips rather than flogging kids to death with standards and testing?!

  4. […] Today’s Associated Press article “Give kids more free playtime, docs urge” supports ideas I’ve blogged about before in my posts “Curing Nature Deficit Disorder,” “Increase retention and creativity with recess,” and “Let’s fight for recess.” (Thanks for the link, Devin.) According to the article: The American Academy of Pediatrics says what children really need for healthy development is more good, old-fashioned playtime…Numerous studies have shown that unstructured play has many benefits. It can help children become creative, discover their own passions, develop problem-solving skills, relate to others and adjust to school settings, the academy report says. […]

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