Conservation Education On the Web

30 07 2008

All this talk about getting outside is not intended to bash technology. Obviously, I embrace a little technology in my life. Here are two noteworthy websites that allow children and adults to learn more about nature through the internet:

WolfQuest is a video game, free to download on your computer, that illustrates wolf behavior and biology. Hunt, search for mates, and fight other wolves in an addictive format that’s competitive with other video games on the market today. The game has a multiplayer option, and players can talk to wolf biologists online to discuss what they’re experiencing through the game.

Developed by EduWeb, the International Wolf Center and the Minnesota Zoo, WolfQuest was designed as an edutainment tool for children in more urban environments who might not be able to visit large expanses of wilderness and gain nature appreciation that way. So far, it’s been a big hit, especially with girls (an oddity in video game-land). That being said, it’s great for adults, too. You can design your own wolf, down to the fur color, and hunt by scent tracks. What’s not to love?

Wildlife University, run by The National Wildlife Federation, is a set of free online courses for those interested in helping the conservation cause from home. Courses range from endangered species and their legal protections to how to encourage wildlife in your backyard. I’m taking the Leading Communities to Conservation set of courses right now, and have already learned much about how I can contribute to society by using my personal abilities and interests. Courses are self-paced and include do-at-home exercises. Why not take some free education when you can get it?

Anyone have more websites to share for nature-minded folks?

Kids and Nature: What Really Counts

21 07 2008

Since I wrote about Growing Nature-Loving Kids, I have become aware of an entire movement spurred by Richard Louv’s powerful treatise on the necessity of getting children into the outdoors. The author himself is chair of the Children & Nature Network, a network of regional groups dedicated to the cause. Several states have issued proclamations and plans to move kids outside during school, free time, and family time. The National Wildlife Federation is promoting a daily “Green Hour” of outdoor play. In short, it seems like everyone is jumping on this very worthy bandwagon.

I believe the reduction or elimination of recess and the increased structuring of children’s extracurricular time is a serious issue, along with childhood obesity and the widening gap between kids’ perceptions and the reality of the natural world. That is why I take great heart in these developments, the rallying to a call for more green childhoods. But I think we might lose the quintessential part in all the pomp.

If we are not careful, we will begin structuring this green time to the extent that children do not have the chance to learn from nature and experience the thrill and spiritual awakening that free exploration and natural wonders can provide. The most important point in all of the emerging research on the ill effects of nature deprivation seems to be that kids must be kids in the most kid-friendly environment there is, and that is the outdoors. No where else can a child have all the limitless variables with which to play, experiment, invent, dream, learn, and ponder. Indoor environments will always be contrived and lacking in comparison.

And so the most important thing that anyone–parents, relatives, teachers, mentors and friends–can do for a child is to get him or her outside for some genuine, unstructured, free and fun play. Who knows? The adults might realize that they needed the same thing, all along.

Growing Nature-Loving Kids

13 04 2008

In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005), Richard Louv suggests that children’s shrinking outdoor playtimes are harming their physical and emotional health. He cautions that this lack of memorable childhood experiences in nature may cost us our future environmental advocates. Whether you are a family that regularly spends time outdoors, or you barely set foot beyond your screened-in porch during the dog days of summer, try for a more fulfilling outdoor experience this year. Here are five tips on enhancing everyone’s wonder and fun in the world outside:

1. Put down the video game/TV/AC controller. A little-old-fashioned guilt-trip is especially needed in our technologically-saturated times. Tell your kids, “Don’t waste the summer away inside—winter will be here before you know it!” Then, whether that works or not, go outside with them. The best way to nurture nature-loving kids is by being one yourself. You might even get more work done on the garden—or on your best summer read—than you thought possible this year.

2. Scour the internet or library books for easy nature activities, and try one out next time the “I’m bored!” chorus resounds. A few “wow” moments may be all it takes before they warm up to the great outdoors.

3. Pitch the idea of a science-themed summer camp. Everyone wins with this one: they find non-tech ways to enjoy their youth, make new friends, and have a summer to remember. You have more time for, well, you.

4. Visit state and national parks for your summer trips, and be sure to stop by the visitor and nature centers, which offer free exhibits, informational materials, and (often) interactive nature programs and experiences led by park staff. Check out what’s on offer when planning your trip by visiting the park’s web site.

5. Catch the fever and share it with your kids. Get them involved in gardening with small tasks that allow opportunities for watching wildlife and learning about how plants grow. Visit nearby public gardens, arboretums, natural history or children’s museums and environmental learning centers. Go hiking on summer afternoons. The bottom line: your children really want to emulate you, so if you’re not having fun, chances are they won’t, either. Show your children that loving nature has its own exciting rewards, and then watch the awe unfold.

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