Feature Article - January 2008
Find a printable version here

A Greener Future

Recreation's Push to Address 'Nature Deficit Disorder'

By Dawn Klingensmith

Educational Allies

Experienced environmental-education providers also emphasized the importance of partnerships. From its inception, Red Butte Garden has been affiliated with the University of Utah, so education has been central to its mission from day one. But the facility has since forged partnerships with institutions such as the Utah Museum of Natural History, which share promotional and programming expenses. Partnerships also enable the botanical garden "to cast a larger net in terms of whom we can reach and whom we can educate," Newman said.

Partnering with public schools to offer programming that meets state curriculum standards can help parks and recreation departments in soliciting grant and government funding. After receiving a series of grants from the Utah State Office of Education, Red Butte Garden—which offers outreach programs to area schools, including supplies for classroom projects on such topics as seed germination—now automatically receives a "big chunk of money" each year for its efforts, Newman said. Funding for its environmental education programs is written into the state budget as a line item.

Seeking out public-private partnerships has paid off for the Chicago Park District, which in 2002 received $1.5 million over three years from corporate sponsors Exelon and ComEd. The sponsorship funded the restoration of several Chicago natural areas; installation of more than 200 interpretive signs throughout 50 natural areas; and the expansion of environmental education programs, including Nature Oasis and Outdoor Explorer programs and a summer job program in which teens take part in planning and maintaining city gardens.

The park district also partners with nonprofits to offer environmental education programs for adults. For example, volunteers from the Chicago Audubon Society lead fall-migration bird walks, and local gardening clubs facilitate lectures and workshops on such topics as native plantings and backyard biodiversity.

Guidelines for Excellence

The North American Association for Environmental Education has established
the following guidelines and standards for environmental education:

Fairness and accuracy: Materials should be fair, balanced and accurate in describing environmental issues and conditions and in reflecting the diversity of perspectives on them.

Depth: Materials should foster an awareness of the natural and built environment; an understanding of environmental concepts, conditions and issues; and an awareness of the feelings, values, attitudes and perceptions at the heart of environmental issues.

Skills building: Materials should build lifelong skills that enable learners to address environmental issues.

Action orientation: Materials should promote civic responsibility and encourage learners to use their knowledge, personal skills and assessments of environmental issues as a basis for environmental problem solving and action.

Instructional soundness: Instruction should be interdisciplinary and learner-centered; acknowledge different ways of learning; connect the material to learners' everyday lives; and be appropriate for the setting.

Usability: Materials should be well-designed and easy to use; clear and logical; adaptable; substantiated; and in accordance with national, state or local curricula requirements.