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No Child Left Inside

Topics: Participation and Learning | 2 comments

Photo by gas22 - Flickr

The No Child Left Inside Coalition in the US is seeking to ensure all children achieve ‘environmental literacy’ as part of their education.

“As the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.” So said Richard Louv in his groundbreaking 2005 book Last Child in the Woods when he coined the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ to describe what happens when children do not get sufficient exposure to nature.

Louv, a keynote speaker at the 2010 International Healthy Parks Healthy People Congress, brought together an abundance of research that indicated that spending time in nature and the outdoors, in creative play, is essential for physical, emotional and spiritual health. Conversely lack of time in nature is linked to many disturbing childhood trends such as obesity and depression. “We can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature,” he argued.

This book spawned worldwide interest in the role that the environment plays in childhood development and how children, especially those living in urban environments, can be given sufficient exposure to the natural world.

The No Child Left Inside Coalition
One organisation that is addressing this issue from a legislative perspective is the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Coalition. This Coalition of over 2000 groups, representing 50 million Americans, is seeking to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure all children achieve ‘environmental literacy’. The bipartisan No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act of 2011, which was introduced into Congress on 14 July 2020, seeks to support the environmental education movement, improve student achievement and prepare students for jobs in a green economy.

“Environmental education must be a part of the formal pre-K-12 education system if we are to fully prepare students to become lifelong stewards of our natural resources and compete in a green economy,” said Congressman John Sarbanes, one of the sponsors of the bill.

“By creating an environmental education grant program and providing teacher training for environmental education across the curriculum, we can prepare our children for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics jobs that will be the cornerstone of the United States’ 21st century economy.

“Research shows that hands-on, outdoor environmental education has a measurably positive impact not only on student achievement in science, but also in reading, math, and social studies,” he said.

Senator Jack Reed, who along with Senator Mark Kirk introduced the legislation into the Senate, also hopes that environmental education in US classrooms will be strengthened and expanded.

“Teaching children about the environment and giving them a hands-on opportunity to experience nature makes them smarter and healthier,” he said.

“Environmental education should be an important part of the curriculum in our schools. This legislation will reconnect more kids with nature and help raise student achievement in core subjects like math, science, and reading. Environmental awareness should be second nature for our young people and protecting the environment is crucial to future economic growth.”

Environmental education ‘in crisis’
The NCLI Act first came about in response to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which mandated the administering of standardised tests to all US school students in core curriculum areas. Members of the NCLI Coalition argue this resulted in greater focus on topics like math and language at the expense of science and social studies, where environmental education is usually situated.

“Environmental education is facing a national crisis,” Congressman Sarbanes says. “Many schools are being forced to scale back or eliminate environmental education programs. The No Child Left Inside Act seeks to give schools and teachers the resources and flexibility to spark the imagination of our nation’s children.”

The NCLI Act was previously introduced in both the 110th and 111th Congress. In 2008, the bill passed in the House of Representatives but never became law as it was not passed in the Senate. This latest incarnation of the bill also faces significant hurdles in an environment of fiscal restraint.

“The NCLI Act faces perhaps even longer odds for passage this year than in 2008 as Congress balances the need to cut deficit spending, and to create 21st century jobs,” says Don Baugh, director of the NCLI Coalition, and a vice president in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which organised the coalition.

“The research is clear, however, and we believe legislators ultimately will see that an environmentally literate student will have a leg-up in the competition for jobs in the Green Economy, and a tiny investment in this proven tool will pay off.

“We also believe the world desperately needs citizens who have a basic knowledge of the natural world around them and how their daily lives have an impact on that complex, rich web of life.”

The NCLI Act has now been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for further consideration. In the meantime, the NCLI Coalition will be actively supporting the legislation throughout the country.

The Coalition also is pursuing another option: asking the Obama Administration to use the authority of the executive branch to issue an Executive Order that achieves many of the same results as the NCLI Act.

“An Executive Order on Environmental Literacy offers a tremendous opportunity for the President to demonstrate leadership on an issue that is critical to ensuring America’s competitiveness in the emerging global economy; the stewardship of our environment; the educational achievements of our students; and the health and well-being of our citizens,” says the Policy Director of the NCLI Coalition, Charles A. Stek.

Movements similar to the NCLI Coalition are now springing up in many developed nations where people are realising children have a nature deficit, and are spending hours engaged with electronic media, but very little time in nature.

“We would recommend to anyone advocating for equal access to outdoor learning that one simple strategy succeeds more than any other,” says Don Baugh.

“Get legislators and other authorities outdoors themselves. One authentic outdoor learning experience can have the same profound impact on an adult as a child, and will be more persuasive than any lobbying in the halls of power.”



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