Marian University Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab aims to help more kids engage the outdoors by collaborating with other nature centers to form Indiana's first-ever 'nature center network.'
Kids today are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago (1) yet several studies have shown that children need plenty of time outdoors in order to be happy, healthy, and responsible individuals. Just as alarming, the average American child spends 44 hours per week staring at some kind of electronic screen (2), which has led to the appearance of what some are calling ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in many children. “Kids have lost their connection to the land and are trapped in a world with sixty-ounce sodas, addictive salty/sugary snacks, and screens on every side,” says Kyle King, community outreach coordinator at Cope Environmental Center. “It’s our job to lead kids to a different world where they can wade with the tadpoles, run without restraint, and feel the mud between their toes.”
Along with expanding its outdoor programming opportunities, the Nina Mason Pulliam (NMP) EcoLab is ready to take it to the next level by partnering with Cope Environmental Center, located in East-Central Indiana, in forming Indiana’s first ever ‘nature center network.’ The purpose of this unified effort is to ensure that every child in Indiana is within 60 miles of a ‘partner’ nature center who will provide environmental education and creative outdoor experiences.
So far, fifteen nature centers, stretching from Wesselman Nature Society in Evansville to Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart, have agreed to become partners. Conner Prairie in Indianapolis, which began leading environmental programs a few years ago, is the latest to join.
One Wednesday a month, the nature centers get to know one another through a conference call, and this fall, they will all come together for their first ‘Nature Center Summit.’ This gathering will function as a pre-conference to the annual EEAI Conference (Environmental Education Association of Indiana) at the Indiana State Dunes.
“We are thrilled to have this network working together to help facilitate experiences that help more kids encounter nature. We envision this partnership leading to stronger relationships with teachers and schools by using shared environmental curriculum so that no child is left indoors,” says Alison Zajdel, CEC’s Executive Director.
This shared curriculum is in the last stages of completion and will be launched by all the nature center partners by the fall of 2016. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will host the curriculum on their website so that the other centers can interface with each it more effectively. TNC is known for their interactive online experience for kids so that they can influence a whole generation to better engage and apply the principles of environmental conservation.
Interested in learning how you can help with this project or any other initiative to get more kids plugged into the outdoors? You can contact Stephanie Schuck at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab looks forward to hearing from you!
(1) “The Changing Times of American Youth: 1983-2003” (Juster, F. Thomas et al., 2004). University of Michigan.
(2) Study: Rideout, Victoria et al. (2005). Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.