Taking it Outside:   Snippets from the Governor’s Conference on Youth and the Natural World

As both a kayak guide and an educator, I felt fortunate to be one of several hundred attendees at the Governor’s Conference on Youth and the Natural World at the Augusta last Thursday.

The gist of the conference was this: (1) young people today don’t spend enough time outdoors; (2) correcting this problem will have important benefits to young people and is likely crucial to the survival of our society.

Governor Baldacci introduced the conference and spoke of his own recent experiences paddling the Allagash and climbing Mt. Katahdin with his son. “Believe me, if I can do it, anyone an do it.” he stated, possibly alluding to the fact that he does not consider himself an outdoorsman or one who pays much attention to his level of physical fitness.

Larry Selzer, President of The Conservation Fund and a leader of the national take-it-outside movement, described the current situation (unhealthy kids, unhealthy environment), as well as proposed solutions that range from parents spending more outside with their kids to redesigning schools as a means of “bringing nature to kids.”

Among the factoids Selzer provided were the following: On the increasing popularity of computers and gaming technology: “The most common injury in children 8 – 15 is no longer broken bones but repetitive motion disorder.”

On over-medication of kids: “Children who have exposure to nature for [even] 10 minutes a day need less medication.”

Selzer mentioned the biophilia hypothesis, which states that we are all biologically wired as hunter / gatherers and therefore need at least occasional immersion in the natural world to be physically and psychologically healthy.

An additional concern of Selzer and groups such as The Conservation Fund (of which he is director) is that it is unlikely the next generation will be stewards of the natural environment if spending time in nature has not been an important part of their lives. And the problem could even get worse, as projections indicate that by 2050, 85% of Americans will live in cities.

Selzer and others at the conference, including David Hales, College of the Atlantic President, and Mitchell Thomashow, Unity College President, spoke of the need to include environmental literacy as a goal for public education. (Designers of the new Maine Learning Results, are you listening?) Several groups, including the Maine Environmental Education Network, are working on identifying the benchmarks of this new type of literacy.

According to Mitch Thomashow, the purpose of education needs to be expanded to be something that not only “gets people to think about how one learns, but also how one lives.”

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
–Arundhati Roy


Campaign for Environmental Literacy

Maine Environmental Education Organization


Children and Nature Network

No Child Left Inside Coalition

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