Feature Article - January 2008
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A Greener Future

Recreation's Push to Address 'Nature Deficit Disorder'

By Dawn Klingensmith

Wondering, Wandering

The environmental and outdoor education movements trace back to the publication in 1956 of Rachel Carson's magazine article "Help Your Child to Wonder," later published in book form as The Sense of Wonder. Chronicling outdoor adventures with her 20-month-old nephew, Carson introduced the concept and importance of environmental education, as well as its characteristics at the early childhood level. Today, organizations such as the North American Association for Environmental Education and the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education set standards for exploring the complex relationships that exist among humans, the built environment and nature.

When children are the target audience, environmental education should include hands-on investigations; reveal real-world applications of the subject matter; recognize and appeal to different learning styles; develop critical thinking skills as well as creativity; take an interdisciplinary approach; and make use of immediate natural surroundings.

It is often the case, too, that environmental education programs develop muscles as well as minds and could therefore counteract childhood obesity. For example, programs offered through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada take place over the course of mile-long hikes enabling kids to witness firsthand animals' use of camouflage, geological formations and other natural phenomena.

Areas of Exploration

A course of preparation for environmental stewardship at any age includes learning in the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities to foster students' understanding of the complex world around them and their place in it. Areas of coverage might include:

  • energy
  • land
  • water
  • weather
  • biogeochemical cycles
  • evolution
  • food webs
  • minerals
  • soil
  • atmosphere
  • climate
  • biodiversity
  • extinction
  • habitats
  • aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal communities

  • Examining human interactions with natural systems will give rise to global issues such as:

  • population
  • manufacturing
  • government policy
  • technology
  • transportation
  • agriculture
  • construction and development
  • renewable and nonrenewable natural resources