The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 5, 2013

Nature deficit disorder


Daily Item

---- — The last thing that our kids today need is another psycho-babble, 10-cent term about some disorder that is just a dressed-up excuse for bad behavior, lack of attention to details or the fact that they're just too fat.

When I introduced my theme of "No Child Left Indoors" for this coming year, I was just trying to build off of the success of last year's series that was themed, "Get Out Often."

The term "nature-deficit disorder" or NDD for short, is not new and I certainly didn't come up with it. It was coined by the author Richard Louv in his pivotal book "Last Child in the Woods" to describe what happens to young people who become disconnected from their natural world. In his book, Louv links this lack of getting outside to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, depression and possibly even the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

It's worthwhile to explain and understand the research and the ideas behind the notion of nature-deficit disorder and its origin because it's a key element to the no child left inside movement. Latching onto this research and the credibility of some very intelligent people will give a solid platform for this year-long series of articles. However, let me assure you that today's column is the last that will deal with clinical research and educational theory mumbo-jumbo. Because, you see, most if not all of this research and documentation was done indoors and our mission is to get outdoors. So here goes…According to Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland, who was the author of the federal law that is attempting to tackle nature deficit disorder through our schools, "The No Child Left Inside Act increases environmental education opportunities for students across the country. These types of opportunities are essential to grow the next generation of scientists, promote environmental stewardship, and to encourage Americans to live healthier lifestyles. This is the balance that we're offering for schools that feel compelled to emphasize math and reading instruction over science and other subjects because of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law."

Numerous studies are showing that environmental education based out-of-doors has a measurable, positive impact on student achievement not only in science but in math, reading, and social studies. In addition, business leaders are becoming increasingly aware that an environmentally-literate workforce is critical in a burgeoning green-based economy. In-the-field experiences, not just desk work, and related activities, when part of the regular school curriculum in environmental education, also help students become healthier.

Here are some fact and figures that demonstrate that an emphasis on field-based environmental education is paying off:

n Between 1995 and 2009, all 50 states significantly expanded and strengthened their environmental education programs, as measured by the number of key components implemented: dedicated funding, professional development, comprehensive environmental education plans and more. Source: U.S. Department of Education.

n In the past decade, the number of high school students taking the Advanced Placement Environmental Science course jumped by 426 percent compared with an average increase of 97 percent for all other advanced placement subject exams over the same period. Source: CollegeBoard.com

The national No Child Left Inside Coalition is a partnership of more than 2,500 business, health, youth, faith, recreational, environmental and educational groups.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been leading the way in developing useful resources for teachers and youth leaders. Sportsmen's clubs and organization such as Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are not far behind in supporting these efforts. Right here in our valley, I heard from Sherwin Albert of the R.B. Winter Trout Unlimited Chapter about their interest in getting involved with encouraging young people to head outdoors.

Jean Wallace, who is the principal of the Green Woods Charter School in Roxborough, explained that, "Pennsylvania schools are unique in that they already have an entire set of state academic standards focused on ecology.

Based on these standards it's a matter of working with our colleges and universities so that when teachers are coming out with education degrees they have a solid content knowledge in environmental concepts so they are prepared to teach students about the environment."

So how many colleges and universities do we have in the Susquehanna Valley that are preparing the teachers of tomorrow?

n "No Child Left Indoors" initiative is going to make this an exciting year and a true opportunity to get as many young people and their teachers or soon-to-be teachers out into the woods and onto the waterways right here in our backyard.

n Email comments to garrettoutdoors@gmail.com