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A typical day in the life of a child today is dramatically different than it was several decades ago. 30 years ago children spent four to five hours a day outdoors; today children spend most of their time indoors (Louv, 2008). According to Moore (1997), children's development and overall health is significantly affected by daily hands-on contact with natural settings. However, today children's attention is pulled towards homework, video games, computer screens, and T.V.'s (Jago, Baranowski, Baranoski, Thompson, and Greaves, 2005). Other barriers to children's access to nature include; traffic dangers, the Bogeyman Syndrome, lack of accessible play spaces, the highly structured schedules of children, and changes in family structure and lifestyle. Consequently, children have less free time, less access to natural settings, and spend more time indoors enjoying the comforts and benefits of modern technology. Alternatively outdoor play is perceived as a threat to safety; therefore children are rarely given the opportunity to play away from the supervision of a caretaker (Moore, 1997). As a result, the amount of time children spend outdoors is rapidly decreasing, which is proving to be detrimental to their overall health and development and is causing great concern among professionals (Moore & Marcus, 2008; Taylor, & Kuo, 2006; Jago et al., 2005; Louv, 2008; Moore, 1997).
Barriers to Nature
The number of barriers imposed on children's access to nature have increased significantly in that last few decades. Gaster (1991) found that traffic dangers contributed to the earliest and most continuous parental restrictions to nature. The streets in America, and all around the world, have changed dramatically since days of the horse drawn carriage. With the invention of the automobile came increased dangers on the roads (Moore, 1997). As more and more people move towards automotive transportation less and less attention was given to pedestrians along the streets. As cities became more densely populated and traffic increased, some cities began to reconfigure residential street layout to help provide safer environments for pedestrian activity. However, these adaptations and changes have not been adopted on a scale that would provide "measureable differences to children's quality of life" (Moore, 1997, pp. 204).
The "Bogeyman Syndrome"
Through the sensationalization of the media, parents have acquired a distorted sense of reality in which they believe that a 'Bogeyman' is lurking around every corner. The "Bogeyman Syndrome" (Louv, 1990) illustrates parental fears associated with children being abducted, kidnapped, or physically harmed while playing outdoors. These paranoid beliefs further limit children's access to nature (Finkelhor, Hootaling, and Sedlak, 1992).
Lack of Accessible Play Spaces
The amount of available natural space designated for children's use in residential areas has significantly decreased over time, which in turn limits children's opportunities to explore outdoors (Gaster, 1991). Most areas lack legal standards for play spaces in residential areas, therefore as the number of residential areas increases the opportunity for outdoor play decreases (Moore, 1997). This trend is further reinforced by the rising cost of urban land, building upon vacant lots, and the decrease of public resources into the parks and recreation departments (Moore, 1997). Overall public funding is allocated toward organized sports and sporting arenas due to the high demand of many middle class children (Moore, 1997).
Highly Structured Schedules of Children
The daily routines of children are becoming more structured, restricting children's play time. Even recess is being reduced or eliminated to maximize the student's time inside the classroom. Outside of school, children's schedules continue to be tightly structured and defined. Even if provided with accessible play space outdoors, many children would lack the free time to explore it (Moore, 1997).
Changes in Family Structure and Lifestyle
Lastly, changes in family structure, where both parents are required to work or the child lives with one parent, has left very few children with direct parental supervision during the daytime (Moore, 1997). The days of freely exploring your neighborhood under the distant supervision of a parent during the day has been substituted with electronic media, keeping the children safely indoors away from perceived harm (Guddemi and Jambor, 1992; Moore, 1997).
Richard Louv (2008) coined the term "nature deficit" which "describes the human cost of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses" (pp. 36). On the other hand, the benefits associated with experiences in natural settings are abundant and diverse. For example, natural settings stimulate informal play, imagination, creativity, enhance self-esteem and social interactions. Nature, as a teacher, exposes children to natural principles and processes such as networks, cycles, and the unique regeneration of life (Moore, 1997). Natural settings provide a multisensory environment that is not only beneficial, but vital in stimulating all stages of a child's development (Moore, 1997, Louv, 2008). But despite the overall benefits, children's access to nature remains limited. However, "if contact with nature is as important to children as good nutrition and adequate sleep, then current trends in children's access to nature need to be addressed" (Taylor & Kue, 2006, pp. 125). According to Louv (2008), we are at a historical turning point where the natural landscapes that were once taken for granted and utilized by children must now be intentionally created to provide opportunities for children to explore the natural world. Currently, educators have a unique opportunity to reunite children with nature through deliberate environmental educational opportunities. But according to David Sobel (2004), America's environmental education is out of balance.
Lack of Science Education
Since the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 the American Nation has "question[ed] the quality of the science teachers and the science curriculum used in schools" (Barrow, 2006, pp. 266). Since then the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Research Council (NRC), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and other key stakeholders both in and outside of education have made significant gains towards improving science curricula, teaching, and student learning through inquiry-based pedagogies (Goldston, 2005; NRC, 1996; AAAS, 1993; DeBoer, 1991; AAAS, 1989). However, the gains made towards science education have been contradicted by a political charge to hold educators responsible for students learning. With the introduction of No Child Left Behind in 2007, came increased pressure on teachers to improve student reading and math standardized test scores (Johnson, 2007; Lee, Buxton, Lewis, & LeRoy, 2005). Teachers were asked directly from their administration to "spend time on reading, writing, and mathematics. If [you] have time after that, then [you] can teach science-if [you] want to" (Goldston, 2005, pp.185). In addition, teachers have received inconsistent recommendations regarding the best approach to science instruction. Over time "the science frameworks bandied about by state and local education boards have swung back and forth between the hands-on-experiential approach and factoid learning from textbooks" (Louv, 2008, pp. 135).
Need for Teacher Preparation
Leading education philosophers, Froebel, Dewey, Montessori, Steiner, and others, during the 19th and 20th century believed that nature was an essential component to the education of children (Moore, 1997). Only a handful of the first Kindergarten schools in the United States modeled after Frobel's work were truly reflective of his mission. Unfortunately their teachings have been lost over time, becoming more diluted as the training became more disconnected from the original teacher (Brosterman, 1997). In 1970 (Hove), elementary teachers cited the top three obstacles to teaching science in an elementary setting; (1) inadequate teacher background in science, (2) inadequate science equipment, and (3) inadequate time and space. According to research today, little has changed. "Across the United States, â€¦ many science teachers feel that they were not prepared with adequate content knowledge or the instructional skills to teach science effectively" (Johnson and Marx, 2009; Crawford, 200; Keys and Bryan, 2000; Wright and Wright, 2000). This lack of teacher preparation causes teachers to feel uncomfortable or anxious while teaching science, and the less certain teachers are of their content knowledge the more they rely on textbooks to dispense facts (Tilgner, 1990). The level of anxiety increases with regards to using nature as a resource to teaching science. According to Ken Leinbach, the director of Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, "Many teachers would like to use outdoor classrooms, but they don't feel they're trained adequately," (Louv, 2007). Teachers rely solely on outdoor programs like the Urban Ecology Center to education their students, however exposure to such programs is limited due to location and school funding for busing. One school district in Toronto, with the partnership of Toyota's Learning Grounds Program, transformed its school grounds to create a healthy green learning environment for its students (Dyment, 2005). Their school ground greening efforts were intended to "foster a new spirit of community involvement and environment stewardship within the hearts and minds of â€¦ children and youth" (Dyment, 2005, pg ii). Green school grounds offer numerous benefits for the students, teachers, and the surrounding community and environment. Still, many participants expressed their concerns regarding the program and felt that the green school ground was not being utilized to its full capacity. They stated that teachers were not using the green school grounds "because they lacked the training, knowledge, [and] curriculum materials â€¦ to do so" (Dyment, 2005, pg 12). In order for teachers to feel confident teaching science outdoors they must be provided with adequate training emphasizing strategies to both manage and utilize nature as a teaching resource and the curriculum materials to support outdoor explorations (Dyment, 2005).
Nature Learning Environments
If educators are going to have an instrumental impact on improving science education and lessening the 'nature deficit' epidemic in our nation, teachers must ensure that science is taught and that students are provided meaningful opportunities to construct knowledge within the learning environment (Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1993). Although it may be easier for teachers to supply students with facts to memorize, learning with understanding cannot be achieved through teacher directed science instruction. Students do not benefit from their ability to recall a list of disconnected facts (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000). To maximize learning teachers must provide activities that are applicable to the content and allow the students to learn from their experiences (Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1993). Children live and learn through their senses; therefore the construction of knowledge requires direct interaction within the learning environment (Moore, 1997; Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1993). Guided discovery learning opportunities enable students to construction knowledge and obtain a greater understanding of the content (Tobin, Tippins, & Gallard, 1993). However, with regards to environmental education the classroom is inadequate and minimizes student's "use of living environments â€¦at a stage of development when minds and bodies are open to all that the world has to offer and where the seeds of understanding about how the world works are sown" (Moore & Marcus 2008, pp. 156). Outdoor environments including the school grounds should not be limited to free play, but utilized as a learning environment as well (Moore & Wong 1997). According to AAAS (1993),
The school science program must extend beyond the walls of the school to the resources of the communityâ€¦Whether the school is located in a densely populated urban area, a sprawling suburb, a small town, or a rural area, the environment can and should be used as a resource for science study (pp. 45).
When learning opportunities are facilitated outside, nature becomes a learning laboratory for students in which all subjects can be addressed including; science, math, language and fine arts, social studies, and physical education (Prussia, 2001).
Providing students with learning opportunities outdoors enables them to not only learn about the natural world but also to learn in and through it (Moore & Wong 1997). Research strongly suggests that students benefit when nature is utilized as a resource for learning. According the Washington Environmental Yard, student motivation was one of the most important outcomes to outdoor education (Moore & Wong, 1997). Not only are students more motivated to learn, but studies have shown increases in their attention span, self-esteem, memory, problem solving skills, and their ability to work cooperatively with their peers (Louv, 2007). Outdoor learning environments offer multiple hands-on opportunities which spark excitement among children with varied learning styles, offering a meaningful context for learning, bringing education alive (Dyment, 2005; Moore & Wong, 1997). Students gain a broader understanding of their environment and they begin to see connections "between their education, their home lives, and their futures" (Dyment, 2005, pg 21). Natural spaces provide students with opportunities to explore their imagination, inventiveness, and creativity (Moore, 1997). Overall, early and sustained exposure to nature instills students with a sense of wonder, igniting a desire to want to experience and learn about the world all around us (Carson, 1956).
A Call to Action
In his book Last Child in the Wood, Richard Louv provides readers with "100 Actions We Can Take" to reunite children with nature. Among the list of suggestions is the redesign of environmental curriculum along with efforts to "teach the teachers." Louv believes that many educators "feel inadequately trained to give their students an outdoors experience" (2008, pp. 379). In order to reverse the current trends and restore children's access to nature, a concerted effort must be made to revise environmental curriculum and educate teachers on ways to facilitate student learning in nature.
For over 30 years, Project Learning Tree (PLT) has strived to bridge the gap between classroom environmental education and the environment (Bullwinkle, 2006). PLT provides teachers with training and curriculum resources that encourage educators to take their students outside to study the local environment. One of their original goals, which is even more crucial today, is "to encourage students to explore the world around them, their place within it, and their responsibility for it by learning outdoors as well as in the classroom" ("Where the Natural World Becomes Your Classroom," para. 7) In 2006, PLT launched a national initiative Every Student Learns Outside "to help educators make outdoor experiences part of their everyday lesson plans" (Bullwinkle, 2006, "Where the Natural World Becomes Your Classroom, para. 2).
In 2008, the U. S. congress passed the No Child Left Inside Act, requesting the expansion of environmental education for pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and students through theâ€¦
Establishment of programs to promote outdoor environmental education activities as part of the regular school curriculum and schedule in order to further the knowledge and development of teachers and students (pp. 6).
Today there is a tremendous need for additional organizations and educators to join the initiative to improve science education and bridge the divide between children and nature (Moore, 1997; Louv, 2008).
A Resource for Action
In response to the expressed concerns regarding children's lack of access to nature by Richard Louv, the initiative Every Student Learns Outside from PLT, and the No Child Left Inside Act, the project artifact Let's Explore Spring (see Appendix A) was created. Let's Explore Spring is a Kindergarten environmental curriculum aligned to Utah State Standards. Deliberate effort was taken to both educate teachers on environmental education and applicable science content as well as increase the student's exposure to nature through discovery activities utilizing the natural school grounds. Let's Explore Spring was designed to promote the use of nature within the regular school day. The curriculum manual provides educators with rich content information and guided environmental activities that utilize the school grounds as a learning laboratory. It contains a consistent format to ensure that supportive information is accessible to facilitating teachers including; teacher content information, detailed lesson preparations and tips, along with possible misconceptions for the teachers to watch for. The discovery activities within Let's Explore Spring (see Appendix A) were intended to serve as a bridge between environmental education and the local environment while expanding the students knowledge of science, attentiveness to nature, as well as a sense of wonder and belong to their community.
Since the beginning of the 19th century philosophers have emphasized the importance of nature regarding the health and development of children (Moore, 1997). Within the meaningful context of nature, student gain an understanding of how to learn as well as a desire to learn. Learning in nature provides students with multisensory experiences which utilizes their senses, sparks their sense of wonder, and stretches their cognitive thinking. Outdoor learning opportunities can positively impact a student's life and influence their way of knowing, which will carry into all future learning environments (Carson, 1956).
Our society has significantly changed over the past several decades. Before, children had the freedom to explore the world around them. Today, children's time is restricted and they spend the majority of their time indoors. Recent studies have shown that separation from natural settings is detrimental to children's health and development. Given the current situation, these barriers to nature may seem insurmountable; however, teachers have a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between children and nature by providing meaningful learning opportunities in natural spaces (Louv, 2008). With adequate teacher training and supportive environmental curriculum, teachers will have the confidence to utilize the natural school grounds as a learning laboratory, connecting students to the world around them (Dyment, 2005).