Going Off Trail – New Paths in Programming to Connect Children With Nature

Going Off Trail – New Paths in Programming to Connect Children With Nature

boy_woods1Courtesy of recmanagement.com

By Kelli Anderson

Five years ago, with the addition of new management at Tamarak Nature Center in Maplewood, Minn., programming for children and their families began to take the road less traveled. It began, in effect, to go off trail.

“When Marcie, our new acting outdoor education supervisor, came on board, she asked a question,” said Jody Yungers, director of park services and recreation in Ramsey County, Minn. “If we really wanted our kids to connect with nature, why did we have signs posted that basically were saying don’t touch, don’t engage or really appreciate the outdoors? Marcie started the ball rolling and really worked with us to start the whole notion of asking the important question of how do we connect families with nature.”

An answer followed shortly afterward. One afternoon, while observing the reluctance of young mothers with children to venture beyond the interior of the nature center, Oltman began to realize that the mothers’ unfamiliarity and discomfort with the outdoors might be to blame. Her idea for a solution turned out to be wildly successful. It was also counterintuitive. (more…)

Perspectives: A reflection on teaching environmental education

Perspectives: A reflection on teaching environmental education

by Julie Corotis

Children were taken hostage in Russia, thousands died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bombs were detonated in Palestine and Israel. All of these events have occurred while I have been an environmental educator at IslandWood. How these events define my role as an environmental educator may seem obscure at first, but they are actually paramount to my decision to devote my life to this career.

I began to question the value of environmental or outdoor education last September when I read reports of the hostage crisis in Russia. Children were sacrificed for political gain while I was preparing to teach children about ecosystems.  My career choice and what was needed in the world did not seem to be congruent. I could not see how what I was doing was alleviating suffering and dissipating hate. I wondered why it is important to teach children the abiotic parts of an ecosystem when there is a current of hate running through our society. Through this ongoing monologue I realized what role I want to play in environmental education. I want to help children build relationships and a sense of community in hopes that they will leave their experience with me a bit more likely to make positive choices.

I do not believe that children should grow up thinking that the environment is the world’s greatest problem, and it is their duty to save it, which some refer to as the ‘gloom and doom’ approach. Personally, I think that social problems have greater potential to exterminate humans long before we have a chance to kill the planet. The point of this polemic is that I believe children should be taught the value of treating everything with respect, which includes the natural world.

My role as an environmental educator is to teach about the environment, both natural and human-made, and to help others see and value the relationships in and between both. At IslandWood I spend a significant part of 4-day School Overnight Program discussing communities, those in a watershed or ecosystem, our group’s and their home community. Mornings begin with a focus question, which I have altered so that they are broader and can have answers that apply to the students’ own life. For example, “What is an ecosystem?” becomes “What is a community?,” so that human and natural communities can be discussed. The final question of the week “What can I do to make the world a better place?” can have myriad answers that connect their experiences at IslandWood and their lives back home.

I think that the experience of being outdoors in a small community can change people’s lives in extraordinary ways. The setting removes familiar pressures and attitudes, the people often feel freer to be themselves, and the experience is interesting. The combination of environmental education in the outdoors has had a great role in bringing me to this point in my life. I have lived, worked and studied in small communities in nature and believe that I am a better person because of it. I have facilitated these experiences for others and am consistently amazed by its impact. Patience, tolerance, respect and gratitude are virtues that can grow from environmental education, and I believe that these virtues are what is needed to save the world.

Julie Corotis is a graduate student of the IslandWood School on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

The Window into Green

by Mike Weilbacher

With the new wave of interest in the environment, will we finally give students the tools they need to become environmentally literate citizens?

In just a few weeks, high school seniors all around the United States will walk proudly across stages, hoisting their diplomas as they graduate from formal K–12 education. As their teachers, we’ll look on with some wistfulness, for the world into which they are graduating—one of spiraling financial crises coupled with huge international challenges—is vastly different from the one in which they started their senior year only 10 months ago.

But wait, it gets worse. If you place your finger on the pulse of the planet, this is what you’ll discover: global surface temperatures rising, glaciers melting, oceans warming, sea levels rising, rain forests burning, coral reefs dying, old-growth forests disappearing, deserts spreading, the world’s population increasing, and species vanishing at the highest rates since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

In short, the ecology that underpins our economy is also collapsing. And the solutions to this challenge elude not only most of our graduates, but also us—their teachers, administrators, and parents.

Will our graduates be ready for these new realities? Will they confidently stride into this world as college students, workers, voters, consumers—in short, as competent, caring adults capable of making good decisions on the pressing issues of the day?


You are Brilliant and the Earth is hiring

You are Brilliant and the Earth is hiring


By Paul Hawken

From a commencement speech given at the University of Portland, May 3, 2009.

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there. Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.


Place-based Education: Building Sustainable Communities

Place-based Education: Building Sustainable Communities


By Kristina K. Sullivan

“Knowledge of the nearest things should be acquired first, then that of those farther and farther off.” — Comenius, 17th C. educator (Dubel and Sobel, 2008)

On the day of my twenty first birthday, I arrived in the small Appalachian town of Whitesburg, Kentucky (population 2,000) on a university field study. Though not yet a credentialed teacher, I was assigned the position of reading specialist for a small group of unmotivated yet adequately intelligent 5th-7th grade students at Cowan School, about five miles off the main highway.

It took very little time to discover that the traditional methods of schooling were not going to work, the problem exacerbated by my status as a California “outsider”.  At that idealistic age despair was not a consideration; I had no choice but to embrace our differences. Rather than following a rote lesson plan, it seemed more promising to ask them questions about themselves.