"Extinction of Experience" - what experiences ground you? Bet it includes nature
At a recent conference in Portland, OR, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear several amazing keynote speakers, including Robert Michael Pyle. He is a lepidopterist from Colorado, founder of the Xerces Society and author of many telling stories about the natural world around us. I had read "Chasing Monarchs" with great interest, realizing the importance of my own experiences as a child following various critters along Bell Creek in our backyard in suburban Detroit.
Mr. Pyle offered many great words of wisdom to the audience, but two key phrases stuck with me (as I'm sure was his intent). Much like Richard Louv's "Nature Deficit Disorder" work, Mr. Pyle described his observance of "extinction of experience." How kids today are NOT connecting with nature.....what opportunities do they have to explore and experience nature? Do they have natural areas where they can see the change of seasons through the stories of flowers that come and go? Snow geese that winter at Frenchmen's Bar? The season's first sighting of a cabbage white butterfly? I look at my own kids as a barometer of how often they experience nature....do they love it because they see it everyday? His second statement echoes that of many others..... "what is the extinction of the condor if the child does not know the wren in their own backyard?" How many kids in our communities are surrounded by the songs of birds, the flight of bats at dusk, the yipping calls of coyote pups in the field, the presence of the season's first snake warming in the center of the path......but never notice. How many kids have genuine fears about sitting on the grass, a bug that zooms past or that lady bug that lands on them? LOTS. I spend lots of time with kids at recess and realize that they LOVE to explore. But they need the space and permission to explore. They love having someone show them all the cool stuff....almost as if they need permission to explore. What is the balance of creating safe schools while providing enough diversity of setting for them to explore? The Greening of Schoolyard professionals, of which there are many great and talented folks, are always striving to find that balance. It is part education of the school districts that own the sites and the staff who are the caretakers to what is enough nature to provide. What balances safe schools against the risk and liability of natural elements such as sticks, bugs and worms. We see lots of GOSY examples from around the world that we can try in our local schools. I'm sure it will be an on-going experiment of what works best. Knowing that we have lots of curricula, like the Next Generation Science Standards, that teach about the natural world, it would be great to have it right outside the door. To the greatest extent possible. Since we know that views of nature outside a classroom window improves test scores and lowers stress, imagine what happens when you let the kids into nature.
One last quote.....from my favorite teacher and principal friend...."take them out into nature when their babies, so they don't become babies when you take them out into nature."