2015 January – Playing, Learning and Growing: Outdoors

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gail-broader-learning-patch

Louv became an outspoken advocate for reintroducing children to nature, speaking across the country about the importance of letting our kids play outside, and encouraging them to learn about the plants and critters they find there. Louv’s Children and Nature Network established groups in cities across the globe to take children camping, fishing, hiking, and otherwise get them outdoors and away from computer screens.

So what’s happened in the decade since? It seems the message resonated. Children and Nature Networks are active across the U.S and around the world. Here in Arizona, Active Arizona Families formed in 2010. There are now 560 active families that participate in hiking, camping and outdoor exploration. The outings are organized through Meetup.com and are popular with homeschool families and youth groups.

Be Outdoors Arizona is another product of Louv’s work. In this case, local organizations such as city and regional parks and nature groups like Audubon and the Zoo post outdoor activity offerings on the BOA website calendar. This makes it easy for parents to locate and schedule nature events for the whole family.

School gardens have popped up everywhere, the fruit of dedication and hard work on the part of many teachers and parents. One of the largest and best known school gardens in the Valley is at Broadmor Elementary in Tempe. Over 650 students enjoy lessons in science, math, nutrition, art and environmental science in Broadmor’s Learning Patch.

“The Learning Patch is an outdoor classroom where we create and sustain a dynamic setting for instruction,” says parent and garden organizer Kelly Hedberg. “It provides a meeting place for the Broadmor community to share ideas and work together on the design, planting and harvesting of plants. It also provides an avenue to advocate for the understanding of natural food systems, healthy food choices and environmental stewardship.”

Project NICE or Nature Inspired Childhood Education is a program of the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. NICE promotes learning in outdoor classrooms for preschoolers aged two to five years old.

NICE co-manager Nikki Julien states that outdoor classrooms are proven to create feelings of empathy for nature, facilitate cognitive and physical development, inspire collaboration, reduce violence and support whole-child development. The Roosevelt School District’s Martin Luther King Jr. Early Childhood Center provides space for youngsters to climb, run, crawl, touch, taste and smell. Preschoolers learn about gardening in convenient raised beds, and work creatively in the nature art area. Sensory exploration is inspired among native plants, while digging in dirt, and playing in water. Relaxing with a book in the dreaming space is encouraged in this remarkable classroom.

In another local effort for older students, the Center for Children and Nature established in 2005 by Prescott College operates YES, or Youth Engaged Stewardship. Working under the supervision of educators and conservationists, teenagers are central in planning, design, labor and monitoring of conservation projects such as habitat restoration. University of Arizona, Nature Conservancy, BLM and Ironwood Tree Experience partner in this program that engages youth in the field of natural resources conservation.

Whether it’s a garden patch illustrating where food comes from, or a butterfly garden inspiring interest in nature, it seems we are recognizing the importance of encouraging our children to connect with the outdoors. Louv’s newest book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Nature in a Virtual Age advocates that adults need nature too, and that the natural world should be brought into the heart of our urban centers. Let’s hope this idea is also embraced by our society. I’ll be doing what I can to help make it so.

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