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Environmental Education Programs Help Kids Connect to the Earth (page 2)

By — Nature Deficit Disorder Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

A Spiritual Connection to the Environment

Bergstrom believes that the more young people discover their connection to land and place, the more they are awed by it. It is important for individuals to explore the natural world around their community so that they can make become its stewards. Childhood experiences in nature can later inform ethical positions about land use and creation care.

Erik Becker of Bushy Hill Nature Center in Ivoryton, Connecticut, speaks of "helping kids connect with our land" in their 700 acres of varied habitats. "Through knowing the land they come to know how they fit into the world around them - physically, emotionally, and spiritually." He adds that 700 acres is big enough to feel small in, but not big enough to get lost in. Children love naming places on the property, and are able to develop mental maps which help them feel safe while they are exploring. Children who come back season after season develop a strong sense of attachment to place.

Environmental Education Teaches Children To Care For The Earth

As Maggie Johnston points out, if you help children become aware of what's around them and help them to be comfortable about it, they are not just going to respect it but also want to protect it. She uses a model for educating children in nature that follows a pattern of awareness or appreciation, then knowledge, which leads to understanding, and then to responsibility.

Mindy Furrer's favorite part of teaching is what she calls "the light bulb moment," when children new to the program hike to the crest of the dune on the island and see the ocean for the first time. There are other enlightened moments, too, of which the most important may be when "kids recognize that they are smart in a different way from classroom smart." They learn to engage beyond awareness and awe to critical thinking and problem solving in the habitats they are exploring.

The Lifelong Impact of Environmental Education

Both Maggie Johnston and Eric Becker have noted that program participants often grow up to be program leaders. For Johnston it has been her greatest joy to nurture such young people. Becker says, "I feel like camp and outdoor education saved me as an adolescent from going down the wrong road, and I want to do that for other kids."

He underscores the importance of the themes of Last Child in the Woods and expresses a responsibility to use the land at Bushy Hill as "a classroom with the mission of helping kids participate in their own world.

Phina Borgeson covers the environment and science beat for Episcopal LIfe Media. She is an ordained deacon with decades of experience in religious education for all ages. She has also served as Faith Network Project coordinator for the National Center for Science Education, and currently chairs the Celebrating Creation Network in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, where she lives in Santa Rosa. Parts of this article previously appeared in Episcopal Life Monthly.

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