Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Let's Get Kids Wild About Nature!

Post by Tawnya Finney
 “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” ~Richard Louv

“Mrs. Finney, are we going outside today?”  This is typically the question that is asked by my Appalachian Trail Club students as they walk into my room on club days.  Most days the answer is yes.  Many times, I have a learning activity in place, be it LNT activities, collaboration with Ms. Hade’s high school students, or engaging the five senses.  Students learn some new piece of information about nature and hopefully apply it and make it meaningful to their life.

There are some days, though, it is great to have the students enjoying and connecting to nature without the confines of a “formal lesson”.  They enjoy getting out, breathing fresh air, and running.  The American Academy of Pediatrics states that Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health.” While the club is only 45 minutes, I feel like there’s been an element of good health added to my students’ lives on those days. 

I have found that my students want to be outside, despite the weather.  If it’s a beautiful, sunny day, we can certainly say that it was enjoyable.  However, it can be cold and dreary, and students are still enjoying themselves outside.  Students also want to be “doing.”  Another question that usually follows the inquiry of outside, is the question of “What are we doing today?”  They find enjoyment in looking for different leaves and identifying them.  They get excited about looking for different colors and shapes in nature.  They get really inquisitive if we find a different bug (like the wheelbug). 

There have been occasions where I’ve had a meeting in my classroom after we’ve been outside for clubs.  My co-workers often state that it smells “gamey” in my room on those days.  My reply is that it smells of kids enjoying the outdoors and nature. 
I spent most of my free time as a child outside.  I loved the outdoors, even if it was reading a book in a lawn chair.  My love for the outdoors guided many decisions growing up…who I married, hobbies, volunteer time.  If we are to encourage a new generation to volunteer in their communities and to care for their environment, we must get them outside and get them active!  A study by Nancy M. Wells and Kristi S. Lekies (2006) found “The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in ‘wild nature activities’ before the age of 11.”  While most of my Appalachian Trail Club students are over the age of 11, I’ve found that there is still a vivid interest in the outdoors and “wild nature activities.”  For their health and for the health of the environment, let’s do everything that we can to get kids out and get kids wild about nature!

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald