If we want kids to have a stronger connection to nature, we’ll need solutions that are as small as parents insisting that kids go outside or as big as changes to school curricula.
And those solutions will have to be numerous and carried out consistently.
That was the consensus of the discussions at Connecticut Audubon Society’s first two community forums, on March 14 at the CAS Center at Glastonbury and April 12 at the .
The next two forums will be May 3 at the Milford Point Coastal Center and May 10 at the Center at Pomfret. Each is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m., and will feature a panel of local experts and CAS staff.
Seventy five people, including a dozen experts from around the state, participated in the forums, which were based on our Connecticut State of the Birds 2012 report,
The underlying concern expressed in the report is that children spend so much time inside on computers and playing video games, and engaging in highly-structured, carefully-scheduled activities, that they are not forming the bond with the natural world now that will translate into a commitment to conservation in 10 or 20 years.
The community forums are designed to give our members and others a chance to talk about the problem and to offer solutions.
In Glastonbury and Fairfield, the panelists were led by Milan Bull, our senior director of science and conservation, and Michelle Eckman, our director of education, who discussed our science-based approach to conservation education, and our goal of bringing education programs to more school districts and age groups.
One of the Glastonbury panelists, Courtney MacDonald, the mother of two young children, said parents need to resist the lure of structured activities for their children and give them more time out of doors. “We need to say no more often to structured activities,” she said.
Older kids would be more inclined to spend time outdoors if their friends were doing so, said Joseph Sands, a 13-year-old middle school student who was on the Glastonbury panel. He suggested that groups of friends volunteer together at places like the CAS centers. An audience member suggested that Connecticut Audubon Society hold more programs for children and parents together, rather than drop-off programs.
Caroline Hron Weigle, a senior at Masuk High in Monroe, who was on the Fairfield panel, said that even if kids develop a good connection with nature when they are young, by the time they are in high school they are overwhelmed with school work and with extracurricular activities needed to get into a good college.
Michelle Eckman responded, “We need to do a better job of providing experiences that look good on resumes for college.”
Another Glastonbury panelist, Sandee Brown, a retired elementary school teacher, said schools should encourage outdoor teaching but, even if they did, science is a weakness for many elementary school teachers. She would often use the buddy system, working in partnership with a colleague who was tentative about the outdoors to take two classes outside together, thereby working with twice as many students and also building the other teacher’s confidence.
“There isn’t one approach that’s going to solve the issue,” Laura Magnotta, program director at the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club, in Bridgeport, said at the Fairfield forum. “Schools need to make instructional time for it. There needs to be places to take kids that parents feel are safe. There’s going to have to be many angles, many approaches.”
In Glastonbury, the panelists were Courtney MacDonald; Joseph Sands; Sandee Brown; Peter Marteka, a reporter and columnist for the Hartford Courant; Tom Swarr, co-chair of the Chemical Innovation Institute at the University of Connecticut; and Rachel Caldwell, an anthropology student at Central Connecticut State University.
In Fairfield, the panelists were Caroline Hron Weigle; Laura Magnotta; Pamela Iacono, president of the Fairfield Board of Education; David Brant, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust; Tom Ellbogen, director of the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone in Monroe; and Mary Hogue, former president of the Fairfield PTA Council.