Have you ever heard of biophilia? It refers to our need to connect with other species. The David Suzuki Foundation is using this idea to get kids outside and learning about their environment. It's developed an educational guide for teachers and has just launched a family challenge called Back to School Back Outside.
This is a subject close to my heart. Some of my best memories of school are outside - learning about the biosphere of our playground, snowshoeing, canoeing, planting trees. We would even beg to hold our academic classes outside under a tree and our fabulous teachers would agree. For me, everything was and is better outdoors.
We've talked about the benefits of getting kids outside in Nature Deficit Disorder. When kids spend time in nature, they learn better, behave better and are more easily able to regulate their moods. They're also more physically fit. Kids love to explore, examine, manipulate and collect in the natural world. Harvard biologist E.O.Wilson says biophilia, our need to connect with other living things, is built into our evolutionary genes. Makes sense to me - we need other species to live.
The David Suzuki Foundation also wants kids to learn to protect nature, which is hard to do if you don't know it. So it's challenging families to get outside over a four-week period, starting this week, with its Back to School, Back Outside campaign. In week 1, visit a local farmers' market. In week 2, hike through the fall colours. In week 3, hunt for ponds, streams and puddles in your neighbourhood and talk about water, and in week 4, search out drafts around your house and help fight climate change. Each of these activities is adapted from the foundation's new educational guide Connecting with Nature: An educational guide for grades four to six.
The guide was developed in partnership with Nipissing University's Schulich School of Education. It's available as a free download and includes 16 lesson plans, all aligned with the Ontario curriculum. Some are as simple as a walkabout where kids spend time in their schoolyard or a park and share their observations and ideas. Another helps kids understand the difference between needs and wants. They pack a backpack for a nature hike and as the hike progresses they're asked to sort through what they packed to determine what they really needed for the hike and what they didn't. This is meant to start a conversation about consumerism and how the desire for things we don't need drives us to live beyond the limits of nature. I love this one. You don't need much to go on a nature hike, but some of us pack half the house.
Some schools have embraced this idea and are known as eco schools. We visited one.
We've put together a page called "Kids and Environment", so feel free to browse. And of course, there are links to physical health, which we discussed in Childhood Obesity and Healthy Schools Healthy Minds.
If you're rushed for time, download our podcasts and take them with you.
And don't forget to sign up for the Back to School Back Outside challenge. It'll be fun.