Most of us of a certain age have fond memories of coming home from school and spending hours playing outside, hunting for frogs or lightning bugs or whatever, holding down the secret fort in the bushes, inventing games out of thin air, blowing up model cars with firecrackers (wait, maybe forget about that last bit). But in most areas of this country, you see precious few kids doing those things anymore. What do kids, and all of us as a society, lose when they have no experience of the outdoors? We all stand to lose a lot.
Happily, this message is sinking in, and in only a few short years there has been an impressive mobilization by parents, educators, environmentalists, and public servants to get kids back into their natural habitat. This is because the federal “No child left behind” act, which is up for reauthorization this year, has in fact left kids behind in important ways. Can you imagine, for example, being a kid without recess? Without field trips? So, inspired in part by the work of Richard Louv and the Children and Nature Network, lawmakers are doing something about it.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland have introduced The “No Child Left Inside Act of 2007”, which aims to return outdoor activities, nature study, and environmental education to the core curriculum of American kids. The act would amend the No Child Left Behind law in the following ways (see here for a summary, and here for a PDF of the full text of the bill):
- Provides federal funding to states to train teachers in environmental education and to operate model environmental education programs, which include outdoor learning
- Provides funding to states that create environmental literacy plans to ensure that high school graduates are environmentally literate.
- Provides funding through an environmental education grant program to build state and national capacity.
- Re-establishes the Office of Environmental Education within the U.S. Department of Education.
This issue is about a lot more than kids blowing off some steam outdoors — although as every parent and teacher knows, that is important to the sanity of both kids and adults. It’s literally about whether American society will have a relationship with the environment, and what it will look like. Not to mention the physical and psychological health of kids. As Sarbanes noted in introducing the bill:
“We’ve heard from many environmental education experts about how the No Child Left Behind’s strong focus on testing has led many teachers to reduce the time spent on environmental sciences,” said Congressman John Sarbanes. “This legislation will help turn our children, whose generation will ultimately be responsible for saving the planet, into environmental stewards.”
So if you have been wondering, as many of us have, how you can move beyond your own personal recycling and compost heap and stiff air-dried clothing to have a larger influence on getting this country on a more environmentally sustainable track, here is one important chance — to influence the hearts and minds of the next generation. You can help make No Child Left Inside a reality: