Let them love the land before they need to save it – The Irish Times – Tue, Sep 04, 2012

19/11/2012 3:03

Let them love the land before they need to save it – The Irish Times – Tue, Sep 04, 2012

An very interesting Irish perspective on the effect of nature deprivation on children

Full article can be read from the link above.                                                                                                                             
Parents and teachers’ concerns about health and safety have disconnected children from their land. When the term “nature deficit disorder” was first coined by writer Richard Louv in 2005, it sounded laughable. Only in America . . .
                                                                                However, the US perspective on modern living has
a habit of creeping up on us and, just seven years later,
it doesn’t seem such an over-statement of the problem after all. Parents’ fear for the safety of their children combined with the lure of screens indoors means there is an increasing disconnect between youngsters and the natural world.

The effects of this on their physical and mental health are seen, it is argued, in rising figures for childhood obesity, attention-deficit problems and depression.

Some 60 per cent of Ireland’s population now lives in cities or towns and, even in rural areas, children are so often driven from A to B, they have little opportunity to engage with the landscape…

Even if they live in “one-off” rural housing, their lifestyle may be closer to their city peers than neighbouring children growing up in farm families who are focused on the land.

Farmers’ markets, which have become increasingly popular in urban areas over the past decade, go some way to bridging what was an ever-widening gulf between the consumption of food and its origin. Consumers have more interest now in “local food” and meeting the people who produce it.

Schools can learn a lot from farmers’ markets, according to David Sobel a US academic who promotes place-based education. He was in Ireland recently to address a two-day symposium entitled From Apathy to Empathy – reconnecting people and place. …..“Schools should be more locally grown – reflective of the culture, heritage and nature of that area rather than being homogenised,” he tells The Irish Times during a break in the symposium, which was organised by Burrenbeo Trust in Kinvara, Co Galway, and supported by the Heritage Council.

At the same time as children have become more cooped up at home, so have schools become more isolated within their own walls – for similar reasons. Concerns about health and safety limit the chances pupils have of being allowed outside the classroom, never mind beyond the school boundaries.

By making the walls between schools and their local community more permeable, education becomes more grounded, more concrete and more accessible, argues Sobel. Primary school children should be learning the geography of their neighbourhood before they start learning the geography of the whole country or other continents……..“All those free play experiences in the natural world – building forts and picking your own paths in the woods – are the basis for environmental values and behaviours in adulthood,” he points out. “If we don’t have kids out doing that stuff, we are ensuring they will not be environmentally responsible when they get older.”

……..There are many barriers to taking children outdoors, including concerns about the risks, the demands of the curriculum and worries about managing a large group outside. These have prevented the access to the outdoors that she believes most people want for their children. “It is about trying to change the perspective of the value of being outdoors and learning outdoors.”

……..Younger teachers may not have grown up with much outdoor play themselves, she points out, and can lack the interest or confidence in bringing their young charges outside……“In our own heads, we think Johnny is brilliant if he can work a computer. We have no value on Johnny being able to climb a tree.”

…….Teachers are uncomfortable taking children outside, agrees Sobel. “They don’t know how to create good outdoor learning environments and good outdoor learning expectations.” They have to get it across to children they are not going out for a break but for learning……Adapting the national curriculum to the local community does take effort, he acknowledges. “It is harder work to figure out how to teach subtraction using the trees on the playground. It takes effort but it is doable.”

There is also a mindset among parents, particularly of secondary school children, that trips outside the classroom detract from the “real” business of school, which needs to be challenged….“There is a lot of research that suggests that when you do this engagement in real challenges or issues in the community, the need for the learning is much more obvious to the students,” says Sobel………..

Tess Michaels