S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 8, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0408.nature.htm

Using nature to improve education
By Andy Brack, Publisher

EDISTO ISLAND, April 8, 2007 - - You can see the brain buzz a kid gets when she's playing outside with seashells, watching birds or running around on the beach.

It's a sharp contrast to how most youths spend their time - - stuck in front of a television, video or computer screen. A recent study shows American children spend an average of 44 hours a week - - more than six hours a day - - in front of a screen.

"Their senses -- including, most sadly, their sense of wonder -- are bombarded, overwhelmed and ultimately diminished," according to the National Wildlife Federation.

It's not difficult to figure out the development of this "nature deficit disorder," a term penned by author Richard Louv. Through the nation's automated babysitter (television), children get a lot of information passively. It's one-way - - TV to child. Interactivity picks up some with video games (but then again, they are games) and using computers, but it's not the same as learning based on direct experiences.

A Great Egret flies along a tidal marsh looking for food.

Take the case of a bird like the Great Egret. Today's children might be able to learn everything in the world about it through a TV documentary or the Internet. But actually to see the big white bird slowly stalk small fish in a tidal stream as the sun beats down is completely different. Playing outside for kids is an educational, sensory experience that caresses and stimulates their brains in multiple, interactive ways.

Educators say trading screen time for green time outdoors is, to make a bad pun, a natural. Children who play outside regularly in an unstructured way are fitter and more creative and more imaginative. They also have less stress and better self-respect, according to NWF's Green Hour program, a national initiative for getting children to spend one hour a day outside.

While the NWF program is voluntary, a state-backed, environmental education pilot program shows promise in providing a new structure to improve student performance.

The SC"Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning" School Network involves 2,500 students and 120 teachers in 11 middle schools across the state.

"They're using the natural and social systems as the context of learning in their local communities," said environmental educator Ed Falco, coordinator of the program for the State Department of Education.

He's quick to point out that the system isn't just a way to teach science. Instead, it integrates science, math, social studies and language arts into an environmental education strategy.

"We're using environmental education in a new way," he said. "It's not just about science. These kids are out and about investigating. They're exploring and trying to solve local issues. They're taking their education further by taking it outside."

So far, the results for the sixth graders involved are encouraging, he said.

At one middle school in Colleton County, for example, students had an average gain in standardized test scores that were higher than the statewide average gain in schools not involved in the program, Falco said.


We encourage your feedback. If you'd like to respond to something in SC Statehouse Report, please send us an e-mail. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. One submission allowed per month. Submission of a comment grants permission to us to reprint. Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:


This nature-based strategy seems to work. Seven of the nine schools involved last year in the program showed increases in standardized test scores in three of four content areas. In other words, kids generally improved not just in one area like science, but also in language arts, social studies or math.

Even more interestingly, the program seems to stimulate children. Almost three in four reported that they had positive changes and behavior toward their school, Falco said. Why? Because they were investigating and exploring outside of the classroom.

Louv, the author who also chairs the Children and Nature Network, said using nature in education is a growing national movement. A handful of states are considering legislation to integrate the strategy into school curriculums.

"This issue has the peculiar ability to bring people together who normally don't want to be in the same room," he said in an interview.

Falco's program currently costs about $300,000 a year and is backed mostly with private grants. If it were to be expanded across the state, a good guess is it would cost about $6 million a year to run it.

And think of the benefits: Not only might more children be inspired to learn, but they might become tomorrow's stewards of South Carolina's outdoors.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary

lighter side
Getting warmer

Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:

4/3: Don't condemn people for choices

To the editor:

While I do not believe that abortion should be the first line of birth control, there are definitely times when it the better alternative. I don't necessarily mean after rape or incest, those are no brainers. What about the young woman who finds herself pregnant and unable to support a child? Who does it benefit to have her go through pregnancy (emotionally and physically) to give birth to an unwanted child? Yes, she can put the child up for adoption or keep it and raise it alone or with her parents' help if she is lucky. My 14 year old daughter has a friend (also 14) who is pregnant with her second child. They live with her single mother and two younger siblings. Is this a better alternative?

There is not a man alive who has a clue of what it is like to be pregnant or carry a child. They have never had to agonize over whether they were capable of caring for a child. This is not a decision that comes easily to anyone. It is a decision that is debated internally on many levels and one that the mother will have to live with for the rest of her life. It is a traumatic event and ultimately a sacrifice of part of ones self.

As for the mandatory ultrasound viewing [Commentary, 3/25], who is going to pay for it? If she couldn't afford to have the child in the first place, do you really think she can afford additional medical bills?

What will the doctors do to enforce this action? Will restraints be added to beds to make the woman watch?

I understand that Roe v Wade is a controversial action, but people, wake up! This is OLD NEWS. There are lots of things happening in the world that I don't like or approve of. I just don't choose to participate in them. If you don't believe in abortion, don't have one. Don't condemn someone who makes a different choice than you. No one is going to force you to have an abortion, by the same token, don't force a young woman into having an unwanted child. No man or woman has the right to tell another person what to do with her body. It is a personal decision that she will have to live with and ultimately explain to her Maker.

-- Elizabeth S. Bunker, Fountain Inn, SC

4/2: Sanford would be good veep

Sanford not a good VP? [Commentary, 4/1] Well to the folks such as yourself and your fellow partners in crime "business as usual" Republicans, no Gov. Sanford would not make a good VP.

To the rest of us who appreciate his stunts and efforts to change this ass backwards governed state we think he'd make a fine VP. Hell President Sanford sounds good to me and many people I know.

-- Terry L. Bowyer, Lyman, SC

Recent feedback

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.

How you can subscribe to the full edition of the report

The above version of S.C. Statehouse Report is the free edition. Our paid version, which costs about $100 per month, offer a weekly legislative forecast packed with information that can keep you and your business on the cutting edge. There's a new limited paid version for individuals that costs about $30 per month. More on subscribing.

Notes veteran lawmaker Sen. Glenn McConnell: "Statehouse Report gives an inside practical report of weekly problems with and progress of legislation. It reviews the whole landscape."

In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get:

Hot news -- an early peek on something really big that will happen at the Statehouse. We continually beat other news organizations in finding major trends in issues, from teacher and budget cuts to wetlands proposals.

Agenda -- a weekly forecast of the coming week's floor agenda

Radar Screen -- a behind-the-scenes look at what's really going on in the General Assembly

Palmetto Politics -- Tidbits from the world of South Carolina politics.

McLemore's World -- an early view of our respected cartoonist Bill McLemore.

Tally Sheet -- a weekly review of all of the new bills introduced in the legislature in everyday language

Blogroll -- a weekly summary of the best of South Carolina political blogs.

Scorecard -- A Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down of major political/policy events for the week.

Calendar -- a weekly list of major meetings for the House, Senate and state agencies.

Megaphone -- a quote of the week that you'll find illuminating.

To learn more about subscriptions, contact Andy Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com


South Carolina Statehouse Report

Publisher: Andy Brack
Editor: Bill Davis | Assistant Editor: Betsy Brack

Phone: 843.670.3996 Fax: 843.722.9887

Subscription or sponsorship Inquiries: info@statehousereport.com

Have an event for the SC Statehouse Report calendar? E-mail details to: news@statehousereport.com or fax to above number.

For additional information, including subscription prices, go to http://www.statehousereport.com/.

Just a quick note to let you know how you missed out this week. If you were a subscriber to the paid edition of Statehouse Report, you would have received the information below on Friday AND you would have gotten other special features:

  • NUMBER OF THE WEEK: $15 million
  • NEWS: Jasper port could sate state's hunger for business
  • LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Busy week ahead
  • RADAR SCREEN: That sinking feeling
  • PALMETTO POLITICS: Odious but necessary
  • TALLY SHEET: New bills from the Senate
  • BLOGROLL: No big deal?
  • SCORECARD: Ups and downs from the last week
  • MEGAPHONE: Change of direction

For more information, contact us today about our affordable paid subscriptions for businesses and organizations that need the inside scoop at the Statehouse.

Jasper could be perfect port
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

APRIL 6, 2007 -- With S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue this week naming their states' representatives to a joint task force looking into the running of a jointly-owned port facility along the Savannah River, some state politicians in Columbia are beginning to look more closely into the wisdom of state ports projects.

  • If you subscribed to the full edition of Statehouse Report, you'd get more information on this and much more. Contact us today to learn more.

AVAILABLE NOW: Furman University's Don Gordon has great things to say about Andy Brack's new book of commentaries, "Bugging the Palmettos." Click here to learn more and buy the book -- only $15.00!

Visit Statehouse Report



  Copyright 2007, Statehouse Report LLC, which is affiliated with The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.
Reproduction is prohibited without express permission of the publisher. For additional information, including subscription prices, go to