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.

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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:

feedback
4/3: Don't condemn people for choices
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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

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  • NUMBER OF THE WEEK: $15 million
  • NEWS: Jasper port could sate state's hunger for business
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  • RADAR SCREEN: That sinking feeling
  • PALMETTO POLITICS: Odious but necessary
  • TALLY SHEET: New bills from the Senate
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  • MEGAPHONE: Change of direction

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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.

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