Today’s post features an article by guest blogger, Carolyn Kelly.
Richard Louv, author of the acclaimed novel Last Child in the Woods, coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe the growing problem of humans, particularly children, no longer interacting with nature. Many children spend a majority of their time outside of school on a smartphone, tablet, video game console, or some sort of electronic indoor pursuit. This lifestyle may contribute to negative health effects and a growing lack of environmental awareness. Compelling studies show a correlation between the amount of time spent indoors and the negative health impacts experienced by children and adults. As children spend more time indoors with their electronics, they become increasingly disconnected from the environment. Participatory environmental education could break this growing disconnect and cure Nature Deficit Disorder.
Educating youth on the importance of the environment and fostering direct interactions with nature promotes healthy individuals and society as a whole. Children will learn to cherish their natural environment and participate in sustainable practices if properly educated about the negative impact of certain human activities on nature. Studies show a direct link between environmental education and more effective protection of habitat and resources, more green careers, and more gender equality in the field of science. Thus, connecting children with the environment enables them to make better choices for themselves and for society.
The advantages of environmental education are clear, but effective education methods are essential. Children need to learn by spending time in nature and participating in outdoor activities. Their sense of curiosity needs to be ignited and they need to be inspired to help and value nature. Children need to be challenged to take charge of their learning and use their critical thinking to explore the world. It is difficult to achieve this by sitting in a classroom or indoors using technology. Children need to get outside and get their hands dirty.
Fortunately, there are many opportunities in Cincinnati for children to explore the world around them. These opportunities can range from hour long programs to year long projects. St. Mary School in Hyde Park has been a leader in bringing environmental education into its curriculum. Since 2006, a group of approximately twenty eighth grade students has participated in a hands-on educational trip to Costa Rica every school year. This trip is lead by Gary Morgan at Morgan’s Jungle Lodge located on the Osa Peninsula and a team of teachers from the school to promote environmental awareness through participatory environmental education. Participants of the program are able to make environmental connections locally and abroad that will benefit them for years to come. Grace Dayton, St. Mary School student states, “this was a trip of a lifetime that has opened my eyes to the importance of conservation abroad as well as in Cincinnati.”
Additionally, local organizations such as Keep Cincinnati Beautiful offer a plethora of classroom education opportunities. Their environmental education department offers assemblies, classroom presentations, field trips, service learning and more, often free of charge. Programs are available for children of all ages and spark excitement about the environment. These opportunities further children’s awareness of their impact on the environment and encourage them to be positive leaders in their community.
Given the growing trends, it is up to educators and adults to combat Nature Deficit Disorder by encouraging young people to take part in the environmental experiences and reconnect with the natural world. It is essential that the young citizens of Cincinnati, and across the globe, take the lead in bettering their communities and step up as responsible and active environmental stewards. This can be achieved by having children participate in established environmental programs or by adults simply as encouraging kids to turn off their electronics and GO PLAY OUTSIDE!
Carolyn Kelly is a Jr High teacher at St. Mary School, Hyde Park. She has led two student expeditions through the Costa Rican rainforests and started a sustainable education program at the school. Carolyn is also a member of the Miami University Project Dragonfly Program, where she has studied ecology and local conservation issues in Borneo, Peru, and the Baja Peninsula.