children are disappearing from the outdoors at a rate that
would make them top of any conservationists list of endangered species if they were
any other member of the animal kingdom.
In July 2008, Sebastian Chuwa and his wife, Elizabeth, attended an educational conference in Nebraska City, Nebraska, dedicated to childhood nature education. It was jointly sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, the World Forum Foundation, and the Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), and attended by 300 early childhood educators, environmental activists, landscape architects, and health specialists, hailing from 27 countries.
The objective of the conference was to share ideas and methodology about re-introducing nature activities into the daily lives of children. In developed countries particularly, children are ever less likely to grow up climbing trees, collecting flowers and bugs, and getting dirty playing in the backyard. Instead of experiencing the wonder of nature firsthand and watching its recurring cycles of growth, death, and rebirth, increasing societal pressures and fears are confining children to indoor spaces, often to spend hours each day watching TV or playing video games on computers.
Ironically, the news that children often get from TV about the environment concentrates on subjects such as global warming and endangered species rather than its beauty. Educational researchers are now becoming alarmed and have coined a new word, ecophobia, used to denote fear of the natural world and environmental issues, often arising from exposure to negative images of nature at too early an age.
The seminal thought for the development of the NACC was a paper presented
at a World Forum conference in 2005, co-authored by John Rosenow, president of the Arbor
Day Foundation, and his wife, Nancy, founder of Dimensions, an educational
research group. It was entitled Helping Children Love the Earth Before We Ask Them
to Save It.
It pointed the way towards giving children early experiences of nature to awaken their wonder and love. In this way, they can learn to identify and bond with nature at an early age and hopefully will become good stewards of the environment as adults.
According to the NACC, connecting children with the natural world: 1) Is crucial for their optimal intellectual and physical development, 2) Provides a sense of refuge and healing in a sometimes violent and frightening world, 3) Helps them grow into adults who care about environmental stewardship, and 4) Nurtures a sense of shared community among the worlds peoples.
Sebastian Chuwa was invited to participate as a member of the Leadership Team. Elizabeth, who is a primary school teacher, attended as a participant. Both were able to share experiences from their many years of youth conservation work in Tanzania and learn what is being done in other parts of the world.
Since Elizabeth is the first teacher in her district of 800 schools to travel to the US, since returning home she has been called upon to deliver addresses, describing experiences and lessons garnered from speakers and other attendees.
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