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Afterschool and the Environment: A Natural Fit

by Marius Hardut last modified Dec 10, 2014 10:04 AM
Bringing afterschool outdoors has the potential to create the next generation of environmental stewards and provides numerous benefits to schools, communities and the planet that will have long-lasting effects. -- Lucille Davy, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Education
Many believe that children exhibit a natural curiosity about nature and their surrounding environment. Research is backing up that belief. In a recent study, elementary school children told researchers that they wanted to learn more about the environment and science. Most had a real interest in environmental issues, concern about the planet and a desire to know more about what we can do to protect it. But they had little real information about these issues because they weren’t being adequately taught about them in school. As a result, few showed much understanding of the science behind environmental concerns, and the solutions that may be on the horizon.[i] 
 
With environmental issues a pressing concern—for our economy, our health and our planet—children need to experience nature firsthand, see the ways our lifestyles are affecting the climate, and understand the impact of the choices they will make. 
 
That kind of exploration and engagement will heighten awareness, promote social responsibility and create opportunities for more physical activity. All of that is important. Today’s children are the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents.[ii] Sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity have contributed greatly to numerous health problems plaguing children today including childhood obesity. According to the Institute of Medicine, childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years for preschoolers and adolescents, and more than tripled for children aged six to 11.[iii] Chronic conditions related to childhood obesity such as type-2 diabetes, asthma, hypertension and cardiovascular disease have all increased over the past few decades.[iv] 
 
In an effort to address these issues, in September 2008 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the No Child Left Inside Act to strengthen K-12 environmental education and teacher training. The bill states that incorporating environmental education into the curriculum will enhance learning and problem-solving skills and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities likely to arise in coming years due to environmental changes. It can also improve academic performance, self-esteem, personal responsibility, and community involvement, and address childhood obesity.[v]
 
The benefits associated with engaging children in environmental education are significant and well-documented. 
Yet, most children have little chance for direct contact with nature and the outdoors, which have taken a back seat to television, video games and computers. At the same time, academically demanding schoolwork has all but eliminated physical education and recess. Today’s children are losing contact with the natural environment, and their health and well-being is suffering as a result. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages children to get outside not only for their physical development, but also for their emotional, social and cognitive development.  Being outdoors can:
·        Increase levels of physical activity[vi]
·        Reduce stress[vii]
·        Aid in healthy development[viii]
·        Serve as a coping mechanism for children with attention disorders such as attention-deficit disorder[ix]
 

Going outdoors and learning about the environment promote children’s intellectual, emotional and physical health by allowing them to work outside the classroom and gain a greater understanding of the world around them. Fostering greater environmental awareness has the potential to prepare future generations of environmental stewards and leaders—such as scientists and entrepreneurs—who will help meet the economic and environmental challenges that lie ahead. Environmental education also can increase awareness and knowledge about our planet while strengthening critical thinking, problem-solving and effective decision-making skills.

 

The whole article can be found here

http://afterschoolalliance.org/issue_35_environment.cfm

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