There’s something about knowing you are not alone in your passion about the need to get outside. Not that we ever thought we were, but, sometimes, in the field of environmental education you start to wonder if others, outside of your field, understand this need. We have the luxury of seeing, first hand, the transformation in a child when they climb a tree, run through the prairie, or hold a frog in their hand. We’ve observed the power of nature.
This past week, four members of the Riveredge staff had the privilege of becoming deeply connected with an international movement to intertwine the lives of children with that of nature – in every aspect of society. The three-day Children & Nature Network Conference brought together leaders from the conservation, health, education, technology and built environment communities to explore ways to encourage families, schools, churches, non-profits and businesses to support getting kids off the couch and into nature.
Jessica Jens (Executive Director), Sunny Knutson (Director of Education), Mandie Zopp (Director of Research & Conservation), and Carrie Hiestand (Inquiry-Based Learning Specialist) attended all three days of this conference. The first day was dedicated to discussions related to the role of technology in the outdoors. As Riveredge has committed to addressing the need to develop best practices of appropriate integration of mobile technology in nature, we were very intrigued by this day’s content. We came away inspired to continue efforts to find the appropriate intersection of time unplugged and the use of technology as an engagement tool in the outdoors. We were inspired by Melina Gerosa Bellows, the Chief Education Officer of the National Geographic Society, when she said “If they (children) grow up to explore the world, then surely the world will be a better place,” and Richard Louv who asked, “Where is the lobby for balance? (as opposed to an all or nothing approach to embracing technology)” We are in agreement that this balance can be identified and shared with parents, schools, and others in the field of nature. We will achieve that in the months and years to come at Riveredge.
The final two days of the conference were focused on the movement to reconnect society with nature. As Louv explained, the vision for this movement is to “create a nature-rich future that is good for all.” We couldn’t agree more. Beginning this very moment, Riveredge is developing strategies to progress this movement in southeastern Wisconsin and the entire state. We are working to develop not only partnerships, but collaborations filled with charismatic ideas and made up of partners throughout all areas of society. Dr. Scott Sampson, author, personality, and VP of Research & Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, challenged, “We better collaborate and think big. Big ideas win.” We, at Riveredge, are up for that challenge. In the coming year we’ll be:
- Implementing the pilot program of our Riveredge School Naturalist/Scientist in Residence program with a local school district and speaking to all area school districts about expanding this program to their students and teachers.
- Joining the National Parks effort to get “Every Kid in a Park” by providing all the incoming 4th grade students in Sheboygan, Washington, and Ozaukee counties with trail pass memberships to Riveredge for their entire family from September 2015-August 2016. As the National Parks Director, Jonathan B. Jarvis, explained at the conference, “Notice that the name of this initiative is not ‘Every Kid in a National Park,’ it’s ‘Every Kid in a Park.'” Riveredge is dedicated to making this happen for our local communities.
- Leading efforts to create “Family Nature Clubs” in our local communities. As Louv asks, “What if more and more parents, grandparents and kids around the country band together to create outdoor adventure clubs, family nature networks, family outdoor clubs, or green gyms? What if this approach becomes the norm in every community?” At Riveredge, we believe that bringing these efforts to our communities will help hundreds of families build memories and gain the benefits of time outdoors (increased health, decreased stress, increased creativity….and lots more)!