kidsatpark.jpgBy Kelly Rondeau

You’ve heard of No Child Left Behind. Now comes a new program with serious educational goals, but a different approach: No Child Left Inside proposes to re-invigorate environmental education by tapping into kids’ innate curiosity about nature. And communities across America are embracing the fresh, bottom-up concept by holding No Child Left Inside events.

At the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, for example, kids from the Kizarian School recently got their hands dirty with a variety of experiments held along the zoo’s Wetlands Trail, a five acre exhibit surrounding a huge pond.

“The kids were actually looking for real macro invertebrates in the pond, while another learning station had a watershed model to discuss pollutants and effects on water, and then water-quality sampling and testing were conducted,” says Shareen Knowlton, director of education for the Williams Park Zoo. As the children explored outside, zoo residents, Loki, a red-tail hawk, and Teko, a Screech Owl, were on-hand to help the kids learn about native species firsthand. “Being outside and learning, the kids light up one-hundred percent, and they were so thrilled to be there, discovering dragonflies and such. It was so incredible. And that’s what we experience all the time when we get the kids involved in the outdoors,” Knowlton says.

In Greenwood, Indiana, fifth graders at Clark Pleasant Intermediate School spent four days this past school year outside, learning how to navigate with maps and compasses. Then they took a four-day field trip to Eagle Creek Park, where teams of three to five students navigated through the park, locating checkpoints to solve a puzzle and open a treasure chest.

Getting kids outside is the number one goal of the The No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act, which could be passed in 2008. If it’s approved, the law would authorize $500 million over five years to states that create “environmental literacy plans” in schools across America.

First introduced in October 2007 by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), the eco-conscious politicians have been heavily promoting the NCLI Act this year. In April, during Environmental Education Week and on Earth Day, the senators promoted their initiative at a field hearing in Laurel, Md. (held outside of course) of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee.

“Teaching children about the environment and giving them a hands-on opportunity to experience nature should be an important part of the curriculum in our schools. This legislation will free up critical funding for environmental education to inspire the next generation of scientists and conservationists,” said Senator Reed in a media release. “This legislation is a smart investment in our children’s future and the future of our planet.”

“Children today spend more time inside watching television or playing video games than they do outdoors,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “One way to get our young people outside is to educate them about the environment; No Child Left Inside seeks to do this by incorporating environmental education and outdoor opportunities into our schools’ instructional curricula.”

The NCLI Coalition, formed in 2006, was created to promote the NCLI Act and expand environmental education. “Research has shown the value that environmental education brings to schools. Kids grow more engaged in their work and perform better on assessments in every subject. We believe that all children should be given the chance to learn more about their world,” said Tom Waldron, spokesperson for the NCLI Coalition.

“We currently have over 235 organizations as members, representing more than 20 million people. But more individuals are still needed to truly make a difference,” Waldron admits.

You can become a NCLI Coalition member by visiting the group’s website, where you can also learn how to hold No Child Left Inside Days in your community. The website also helps you send a note of support to lawmakers, asking them to pass the NCLI Act, and explains why environmental education is important, citing studies like the one that found 45 million Americans think the oceans are a source of freshwater.

Many environmental advocates and educators are pushing for No Child Left Inside because so many schools are being forced to scale back on their environmental programs and cancel field trips. Environmentalists point to two factors: the unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act and a lack of funding for environmental programs.

Because the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) raised the content standards and testing requirements for reading, math, and science, the change translated into more classroom time, and less outdoor time; environmental education got lost in the shuffle.

“Unfortunately, environmental education has not been a priority under the Bush Administration, but this legislation will begin to change that,” Reed said.

Key elements to the NCLI Act will include:

  • Funding to train teachers to deliver high quality environmental education and use the local environment as an extension of the classroom.
  • Incentives for states to help prepare students for the environmental challenges of the future.
  • Encouragement for teachers, administrators, and school systems to make time for environmental education and integrate it across core subject areas.

In addition, the legislation also would re-establish the Office of Environmental Education within the U.S. Department of Education to oversee critical environmental education activities; and authorize the Secretary of Education to award competitive matching grants to nonprofit organizations, states, and local education agencies for activities to improve and support environmental education.

Over 100 leading environmental organizations support the initiative, including the Earth Day Network, Ecological Society of America, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club.

Getting Kids Involved

Games are essential to getting your kids involved in the outdoors and the NCLI website can help you get started.

One fun activity the NCLI Coalition suggests is called “Schoolyard Bingo,” a fun variation on the scavenger hunt, where cards are made up with a variety of categories and each student must complete the the bingo card either by drawing or describing an object found in the Outdoor Classroom.

Find out how to have a “No Child Left Inside Day” at your school and see the website’s interactive map to see what U.S. schools are doing coast to coast.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media