EDUCATION – Schools, where children spend a significant amount of their time, have a tremendous opportunity to reconnect children with nature. Contact with nature has proven educational and developmental benefits. Historically, schools have planned field trips and arranged for school outreach programs, and schoolyards are often the nearest green spaces in neighborhood. Increasingly across Ohio, schools are being used as Community Learning Centers, making their facilities accessible to the community beyond the school day, seven days a week. This makes them even more valuable as “nearby nature” locations. With 55% of children under the age of six in child care centers, pre-schools and child care centers also play an important role in the effort to reconnect children with nature:
Strategy #5: Create a school recognition program for schools that incorporate environmental education in the curriculum, model best practices on the campus, and address community problems.
Having a school recognition program would not only serve to congratulate exemplary schools, but it would make parents and the community aware of those schools which are successfully integrating nature-based education and opportunities to experience nature into the school day, after-school programs and school-based community activities. The Environmental Literacy Plan currently under development in Ohio recommends incorporating field- and career-based programs that contribute to healthy lifestyles through environmental stewardship, outdoor recreation and sound nutrition into the curriculum. Establishing a recognition program would recognize those schools which successfully implement the recommendations. Projects which are selected for grants from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund (OEEF) administered by the Ohio EPA could serve as exemplary models.
Nationally, there is work underway to create a “Green Ribbon Schools” award, using the existing Blue Ribbon Schools, which recognizes outstanding academic achievement, as a model. It would be an expansion of the Green Ribbon Schools (GRS) program developed by the Texas Children in Nature Coalition to promote healthy living for students, parents, teachers and communities. Green Ribbon Schools promote:
- Environmentally-friendly campuses
- Outdoor physical activity and nature play
- Nature education