Nature’s classroom

21/12/2011 23:23
The latest Kaiser Family Foundation study (a body I would trust to perform an accurate assessment) shows that,“young people spend almost every waking minute when they are not in school using a smartphone, computer or television. The typical 8- to 18-year-old devotes an average 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day, the study showed. In fact, youths spend so much time “media multitasking” – such as listening to their IPods while they use a computer – that they actually manage to pack in a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes into those 7 1/2 hours. Moreover, the time spent indoors has grown in just five years by an hour and 17 minutes a day.”

“Reversing the trend, however, isn’t going to be easy, say experts like Emporia State University Biology Professor John Richard Schrock, especially in a world where parents fear strangers and schools are cutting field trips and focusing more on studying for government-mandated tests.

“We’re losing the battle and we know it,” said Schrock, who also is director of biology education at ESU. “It already is lost in California and other places. (There was) This was a little girl who didn’t go much outside,” she said. “I live in the country, and just going out and walking into the fields, picking up a clod of dirt, was a novelty to her. Beal introduced the girl to outdoor activities such as riding bicycles and jumping on a trampoline. They have even had a hot dog roast – something the elementary school student said she had never experienced.

“I surveyed biology teachers in 1991 and 2009, and field trips have gone to nothing,” he said. “It’s becoming obvious. If we want children outside, then it is going to have to be the parent. The schools are becoming test-prep prisons.”

For example, he said, children aren’t having experiences that would lead them into nature-based jobs. Limited outdoor experiences also have trickled down to the agriculture industry, where, he believes – with more Americans removed from the family farm – more are ignorant about how it operates. This, in turn, draws more animal-rights sympathizers.
“They don’t have the normal experiences children should have growing up,” Schrock said. “Kids used to play in the backyard, play in sand piles. Now they don’t even know what a tree is in their front yard because they haven’t climbed it.”

Getting young people outdoors, playing in nature, also is the philosophy at Hutchinson’s Dillon Nature Center, said director Jim Smith. For the past year, Smith and others have been working on a natural playscape at the center. It includes a stream for children to play in, as well as a garden, a sand area, hills and a stage. He hopes that, besides outdoor play, it will help kids use their imaginations – something he notices is lacking in today’s youth.

Tess Michaels