Not only do we want to facilitate this experience for our students, we want to share our experience and findings with other schools and communities and will devote resources to communicating and publishing our experiences.
The US currently ranks 5th in cumulative K-12 education spending per student (only Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are ahead), but ranks 21st in Science literacy and 25th in Math literacy. In 2009, 69% of 8th Graders scored below proficient in Reading and 68% scored below proficient in Math. As documented in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, parents want alternatives. Currently, media consumption by school aged children is on the rise and the academic pressures of testing begin as early as 3 years old. These things affect children’s language and literacy skills upon entering school which are significant predictors of their later achievement. Children with strong abilities initiate a trajectory of higher motivation, stronger external support, and greater academic success , but children who enter school with weaker language skills encounter a gap in ability that only increases with age so that by the third grade it is too large to overcome (Biemiller, 2003).
John Taylor Gotto reminds us, “Books that show you the best questions…hurt the mind under the guise of helping it…Real books, unlike schoolbooks, can’t be standardized. They are eccentric: no book fits everyone. How (they) say what they say is as important as the translating their words into your own.”
And there are many reasons for seeking out a Nature-based environment:
Child and Adolescent Health: There are rising levels of obesity, stress, heart disease, diabetes, depression and eating disorders among children and teenagers in developed countries.
Learning: Relentless testing and competitiveness lead many students to give up, become angry and embittered. Children labeled with ‘attention deficit disorder’ and ‘hyperactivity’ find it difficult to learn effectively in a classroom environment. Even successful students may feel their achievements have been won at the cost of their authentic desire to learn.
Anti-social Behavior: There is grave concern about the levels of crime, violence, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and low levels of public civility among children and teenagers.
Intercultural Relations: Ethnic tensions are fueled by stereotyping, prejudice, lack of respect and lack of equal opportunities in many areas of life. There are not enough public spaces where people from all backgrounds feel welcome to engage in creative activities that celebrate their similarity and their diversity.
Civic Engagement: The failure to give children and youth a voice and a role in civil society risks breeding a dangerous cynicism and ignorance about democracy and community building.
Ecological Stewardship: All of the ecosystems and species of the earth, including humans, continue to be threatened in numerous ways. Our children will inherit this major challenge and will be expected to care for and heal a severely damaged biosphere. But many children will reach adulthood with no experiences of being nurtured and healed by time spent playing or relaxing in natural environments.