Thursday, March 15, 2012

Building on Community Strengths: Nature-Focused Education

Understanding and building on community strengths is a core value in our work. It’s why we work with local schools in building community resilience, and it’s why we are working to strengthen our schools by introducing nature-based education.

According to the Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, children today suffer from nature-deficit disorder. Instead of enjoying the Great Outdoors, these children stay inside, playing video games and updating their social media. He says that for many of this generation, nature is becoming more “abstraction than reality."

The schoolyard at Brown Street Academy used to be a slab
of asphalt, but as this rendering shows, the Center for
Resilient Cities has transformed it into a positive
environment for outdoor education. Partners on the
project include Milwaukee Public Schools, the Rotary
Club of Milwaukee and the Lindsay Heights community.

But if we reconnect children with nature, powerful change will happen. Louv says environment and nature-based programs have improved attendance, behavior and standardized scores in schools across the world. Two major studies in Canada showed that school grounds with diverse natural settings promote physical activity, nutrition awareness, civility among the students and creativity.

At the Center for Resilient Cities, we have worked to bring nature and education together at Brown Street Academy, an elementary school in Milwaukee. During the summer of 2010, we transformed one-half acre of concrete into a vibrant haven for outdoor education. In this Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, children create visual masterpieces in a nature art area, build with natural materials, climb on natural structures and practice their balance, agility and creativity in areas designed for music and movement. There will also be a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom at our Resilience Research Center.

Another organization doing powerful work with nature and sustainable education is the Center for Ecoliteracy. The nonprofit believes that “the best hope for learning to live sustainably lies in schooling that returns to the real basics”: students engaging with nature, appreciating how nature sustains life and understanding the consequences of how we feed ourselves. Working with local partners in 200 cities on six continents, the nonprofit works with school gardens, school lunches and helping educators integrate sustainability into school curricula.

The Center for Ecoliteracy’s website provides a wider concept of sustainability – one which goes beyond environmental sustainability. It’s one we believe has ties to resilience:
"Sustainability as understood by the Center for Ecoliteracy is a far richer concept than simply meeting material needs, surviving, or trying to keep a degraded planet from getting worse.  A truly sustainable community is alive – fresh, vital, evolving, diverse, dynamic. It supports the health and quality of life of present and future generations while living within the limits of its social and natural systems. It recognizes the need for justice, and for physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual sustenance."
A focus of community commitment, the local school is a key community strength. Neighbors of the Resilience Research Center tell us: “We cannot grow as a community unless our children grow.” “Schools are not just in the neighborhood, they are of the neighborhood.” “Schools are where kids get to know their community. They get to know the possibilities.”

Do you believe nature-focused education is important to grow our children in a resilient community? And moving beyond youth, how do we engage the entire community in resilience learning and practice?

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