Brother Yusufs Corner: Students Bond with Nature


Physical and emotional benefits are emphasized

How to like insects. Honeybees. Trout in the classroom. These were just some of the topics addressed Saturday morning at a conference designed to introduce youngsters to the natural world — and to the physical and emotional benefits that a strong connection with nature brings.

Parents and children gathered at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, where they listened to lectures and attended workshops as part of the second annual Greater Baltimore Children and Nature Conference, which was sponsored by several local organizations.

“Through these programs, we are breeding the next generation of leaders who will care about our world,” said Katie Dix of the Parks & People Foundation, a sponsor of the conference along with the Abell Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, among others.

“It’s not an anti-tech movement; it’s about becoming a well-rounded student,” Dix said. Organizers said they hoped to encourage students to go outside more often to reinforce lessons learned in the classroom — or at the school’s farm. Many Baltimore City students plant vegetable gardens, care for chickens and bees, and install rain barrels to catch water for irrigation.

“They even get to use the geometry they learned to lay out and design raised beds,” Dix said. “They collect eggs, which they use for snacks, and chicken droppings, which are for fertilizing the gardens. It’s all about sustainability.”

The program also helps urban students overcome fears about what may be lurking in the fields, woods and streams by teaching them about wildlife and its habitats.

Mary Hardcastle, the environmental education manager for the Parks & People Foundation, said the conference’s inspiration stemmed from a book by Richard Louv titled “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

On his website, Louv, a child advocate, discusses what he calls the “staggering divide” between children and the outdoors, linking the lack of exposure to nature — what he calls a nature deficit disorder — to some of the most distressing problems frequently seen in children, such as rises in obesity, attention disorders and depression.

His book discusses a growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is crucial for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional well-being of children.

The book “describes the movement and describes what can happen to our kids,” Hardcastle said.

Brother Yusuf, who specializes in youth development and environmental education, attended the conference with several students from Green Tech High Charter School in Albany, N.Y.

“Through … outdoor photography, hiking, skiing and kayaking, we teach kids to be respectful of the environment and have fun,” Yusuf said. “We have to give them a broader sense of place.”


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