In elementary school, I lived for recess, summer vacations, and weekends. When else could I have the chance to go hiking, camping, and fool around in nature? Free time presented opportunities to explore and have adventures in the forests and creeks around my home and allowed for family vacations to national parks and recreation areas. However, as a former environmental educator, I am aware that there are plenty of today’s youth that are cut off from open spaces and wilderness.
In an age where computers and televisions are our primary source of entertainment, schools sequester children indoors during class time, and working adults are confined to cubicles and households, the natural world has become an auxiliary part of our lives. Organizations such as the Children and Nature Network have identified that kids living in suburban and urban areas may suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder”, which some researchers believe can lead to or exacerbate cases of ADHD, hyperactivity, creates higher levels stress, decreases creativity, and diminishes the formation of community.
Luckily, with the understanding that knowledge of our ecosystems and direct experience with the landscape makes for happy and healthy humans, many schools have been established within the last couple of decades that seek to educate children and their families about nature. One of the longest running and most influential outdoor education organizations is NatureBridge, a non-profit founded by the Yosemite Institute in 1971. With campuses in the Marin Headlands, Olympic National Park, Yosemite, and the Santa Monica Mountains, the school possesses over 40 years of experience with connecting youth to the greater outdoors by facilitating direct and powerful experiences that last for lifetimes. The programs are student-centered, allowing the flow of the courses to be powered by the questions and curiosity of its pupils. Flexible lesson plans focus on the ideas of interconnectedness, sense of place, and stewardship. In addition to becoming familiar with the complex interplay between habitats and ecosystems, children learn the importance of diversity, how they depend upon nature for survival, and ways to take concrete action to care for the world in which they live. Programs and events are specific to each campus, and are open to both schools and individuals.
For those interested in outdoor education close to home, take a look at San Luis Obispo County’s school programs through Camp KEEP and Rancho El Chorro. The CREEC Network has a huge database for Californians seeking local organizations and schools. Get your kids away from the video games and out into the wilderness! Become acquainted with the beauty and magic of nature!