‘Schools must be sustainable’ ….The Edge Debate

From ‘Letter in the Times Education Supplement’, 10 February 2012

If the government is not prepared to make school building sustainable, how can it expect other parts of society to follow suit?

Post your comments below – or at NAEEUK on facebook  

We are deeply concerned that education secretary Michael Gove is considering dropping the current requirement for new and refurbished schools to meet the long accepted BREEAM “very good” standard for sustainable buildings.   In addition to playing their part in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, school buildings have a role to play in helping pupils, their families and local communities understand how sustainability works in practice.   If the government is not prepared to make school building sustainable, how can it expect other parts of society to follow suit?
The Edge is a cross industry group of building design professionals, many of whom have long and recognised experience in school design.   The Edge calls upon the education secretary to maintain the BREEAM standard for schools and to support and encourage the greening of the school estate.

Signed:  Robin Nicholson, David Adams, Paddy Conaghan and 16 other signatories;  members of the Edge, the built environment thinktank’



Children and Nature : Does outdoor play help keep the doctor away?

From Children & Nature https://twitter.com/#!/ChildrenNature and BBC News https://twitter.com/#!/bbcnews

Is modern living resulting in more people becoming disconnected from green spaces and the natural world, at the expense of our health and well-being?

Most concern is centred around children, who – say campaigners – are missing out on opportunities afforded to previous generations, ones as simple as climbing trees or getting their knees dirty.

In an increasingly urbanised, electronic-based, risk-adverse world, the adults of the future are displaying the symptoms of “nature-deficit disorder“.

The term was coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Wood.

In the introduction to his book, he said that over the past few decades the way children understood and experienced nature had “changed radically”.

“The polarity of the relationship has reversed,” he wrote.

“Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading.

“That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.”

Mr Louv acknowledged that nature-deficit disorder was “by no means a medical diagnosis”.

But, he added: “It does offer a way about the problem and possibilities – for children and for the rest of us as well.”

‘Balanced diet’

Consultant Tim Gillauthor of the report Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting London’s Children with Nature, agreed that the phrase did not have any meaningful clinical basis.

Beech tree (Image: BBC)Forest schools” help children with behavioural or emotional problems, research suggests

“I think it is slightly overstating the case to imply that there is some sort of clinical condition that children that do not get into nature will have,” he told BBC News.

“The way I unpack the idea is that regular contact with nature is part of a balanced diet of childhood experiences.

“If children do not have those experiences then they are not going to thrive to the same degree as if they did,” he added.

“They are also likely to grow up not caring about the world around them; while it is not a clinical condition, it should be something that worries us.”

A 2009 report by Natural England found thatonly 10% of children played in woodland, compared with 40% of their parents’ generation.

Mr Gill’s report, commissioned by the London Sustainable Development Commission, listed 12 recommendations that it felt could help address the deficit.

Among them were:

  • Promote better use of accessible green space in order to increase the use of under-utilised areas,
  • Promotion of “forest schools” and similar approaches to learning in the outdoors,
  • And encouraging schools to give greater emphasis to offering children “engaging nature experiences”.

The report championed the use of forest schools because it quoted research by the Forestry Commission that showed lessons and activities within a woodland appeared to have a beneficial effect for children with emotional or behavioural problems.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Sheffield found that visitors to urban green spaces in the Yorkshire city felt a greater sense of well-being in areas they perceived to have greater biodiversity.

It is not only within the UK where the benefits obtained from natural habitats, such as woodlands, are being recognised or researched.

Following the success of his book, Richard Louv established the Children and Nature Network to promote ways to reconnect children, families and communities to the natural world.

In Japan, the health benefit of spending time in forests has its own word – “shinrinyoku”, and literally means “forest bathing”.

‘Not a treat’

Play England – an organisation that focuses on giving children access to free play areas – has funding from Natural England to run a programme to re-engage children with the natural world.

Sweetgum leaves (Image: BBC)Is it time for medical professionals to turn over a new leaf and prescribe a dose of “vitamin N”?

“Fundamentally, we believe that kids should be outside playing for a good proportion of the day because it is how you can stay happy, less stressed but it is also good in a whole range of ways,” said Play England director Cath Prisk.

However, she added: “Research we carried out last year showed that parents think taking their kids to the park is something you do as a treat instead of something you do everyday.

“I have a dog, and if I did not take my dog into the park two or three times a day, I would be considered a very bad dog owner.

“Yet there… is more of a stigma that you have not made sure that your kids did their homework than if you do not take your kids out to the park,” Ms Prisk observed.

“There is a growing body of research that says getting outside regularly is good for kids, but that is fighting a massive zeitgeist, which says that if you let your kid out of your sight, then they will come to harm.”

The Sowing the Seeds report also identified the perceived risks associated with children playing outside without supervision as a reason for the nature deficit.

“Children today do not enjoy the same everyday freedom of movement as previous generations,” it concluded.

“However, the underlying causes of this change are complex and linked to wider changes in society, including increasing car ownership and use, loss of green spaces, longer parental working hours, a rising fear of crime… and the growth of indoor, screen-based leisure activities.”

Nature prescription

But is the growing volume of studies, evidence and grassroots support making a difference to the way certain conditions or symptoms are treated?

Are doctors starting to prescribe a dose of “vitamin N” for nature?

Last year, the chief medical officers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland updated recommendations on the amount of physical activity people should take each week.

Introducing the guidelines, they wrote: “Across the physical activity sector, we need to build on the diversity of opportunities to be active including… exercising in a natural environment.”

Tim Gill concluded: “There is enough evidence for medical sector to run pilot or trial (forest school) schemes.

“This would give us more answers and I would not be at all surprised to see greater interest from the clinical world in the benefits of taking kids into green spaces.

“We are not quite there yet, but the evidence is building and I think it is time that the health sector took proper notice.”

EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity

From Richard Louv’s column

Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or set of abilities. Every child.

If a child never sees the stars, never has meaningful encounters with other species, never experiences the richness of nature, what happens to that child?

In economically challenged neighborhoods, towns and rural areas, the impact of toxic dumps is well known. The evidence makes it clear that when we poison nature, we poison ourselves. But there’s a second, related threat that is less familiar.

What do we know about how human beings, particularly children and their families in poor communities, are affected by the absence of nature’sintrinsic benefits? Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand. People need nature for healthy development. We know that.

What we don’t know enough about is the natural capacity of different ethnic or economic communities.

In The Nature Principle, I introduced the term “natural cultural capacity” to describe the strengths and capacities of different cultures to connect with nature, often in unexpected and underreported ways. The new growth of urban immigrant agriculture comes to mind – Somali community gardens in inner-city San Diego, for example; also, how Latino families often use parks as places for family gatherings, and the long-neglected history of African-American environmentalism.

Some good work has been done in these arenas (Audubon’s study on Latino attitudes, for example), but we need a much deeper understanding of both equity and capacity. Here are ten questions to explore:

1. How do different minority or ethnic communities — urban, suburban or rural — connect to nature? What tools and traditions do these communities practice that could be encouraged – and adopted by other groups?
2. According to grandparents in minority or ethnic communities, what tools and traditions faded or were lost, but could be revived?
3. What barriers to nature experience are specific to children and young people with disabilities? Also, what nature-oriented abilities and capacities could be adapted to other communities?
4. What role do urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods play in the political support for parks and open space?
5. What is the comparative availability of nearby nature (especially natural parks) based not only on acreage, but also on such issues as crime, legal restrictions, and the quality of the built environment?
6. Which institutions and organizations do the best job reaching underserved populations; what new approaches are emerging, and where (the role of libraries, for example)?
7. How likely is it for teachers or parents to take children to nearby nature or wilderness to learn and explore? And who gets to go to camp?
8. What role does prejudice — based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability — play in the nature experience?
9. What is, or will be, the impact of the widening income gap on the nature experiences of children?
10. How will current or future cuts in education, nature-based programs and parks impact different socio-economic levels?
11. In urban, suburban and rural areas, what is the impact of repeated nature experience on developmental advantages, confidence, resilience and health benefits – and how aware are residents of the benefits?
12. In these communities, do people believe that nature experiences – the availability of them — should be considered a privilege or a human right?

Many other questions should be asked about equity and capacity. But this truth is clear: Every child needs nature.


Richard Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network, and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.

For more on natural cultural capacity and diversity, please see:
Saving the Fields of Dreams
The Forgotten Human Right
A Tree Grows in South Central
Natural Leaders Legacy Initiative
Occupy Nature

Photo: R.L.

Children’s Books Increasingly Ignore Natural World

EPA Sustainability

Image via Wikipedia

English: An apatosaur in its natural environment.
Image via Wikipedia

From Children and Nature News via LearnFromNature and NAEEUK .

Picture an illustrated children’s book — one that has won a prestigious award — and your mind conjures up images of furry animals, puffy clouds, and eager boys and girls enjoying adventures in the wild.

In fact, our kids are entering a much different world in their earliest literary experiences — one in which nature plays an increasingly minor role. That’s the conclusion of anewly published study, which suggests these books reflect our growing estrangement from the natural environment.

A group of researchers led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist J. Allen Williams Jr. studied the winners of the American Library Association’s prestigious Caldecott Medal between 1938 (the year the prize was first awarded) through 2008. They looked at more than 8,000 images in the 296 volumes.

They noted whether each image depicted a natural environment (such as a forest), a built environment (such as a house), or a modified environment (such as a cornfield or manicured lawn). In addition, they observed whether the illustrations contained any animals, and if so, rated them as either domestic, wild or anthropomorphized (that is, taking on human qualities).

The results, published in the journal Sociological Inquiry, are sobering. “There have been significant declines in depictions of natural environments and animals, while built environments have become much more common,” the researchers report.

Specifically, they find images of built and natural environments were “almost equally likely to be present” in books published from the late 1930s through the 1960s. But in the  mid-1970s, illustrations of the built environment started to increase in number, while there were fewer and fewer featuring the natural environment.

“This gap widened in every subsequent decade,” Williams and his colleagues write. “Natural environments have all but disappeared.”

In line with this trend, “from the 1960s onward, interactions with wild animals decline steadily.” More surprisingly, even cats and dogs don’t play the role they once did in these stories.

“The probability of a domestic animal serving as a subject declined sharply after 1938 into the 1980s,” the researchers write. “There was a slight rise after this, but the likelihood of finding domestic animal subjects in an image in the 2000s is less than half that of the early years in our study.”

Of course, the American population is more concentrated in urban areas today than it was in 1938, so in one sense, it’s not surprising there are more images today of man-made environments and fewer of the natural world.

But the fact this trend continued into the 2000s, well after the urban migration had run its course, suggests something more is going on. Think of it as a precursor to Nature Deficit Disorder.

Of course, children don’t only read books that win the Caldecott Medal. But the researchers note that such award-winning volumes tend to sell well, circulate strongly at libraries, and “influence taste for children’s literature” as a whole.

“These findings suggest that today’s generation of children are not being socialized, at least through this source, toward an understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the place of humans within it,” Williams and his colleagues conclude.

They go on to note that the “decline in support of the environmental movement during the 2000s decade,” as measured by Gallup surveys, “is consistent with the decline in depiction of the natural world and its wildlife inhabitants” in these popular books.

Whether these prize-winning volumes are part of the problem, or simply a symptom of larger societal trends, is an open question. But this research suggests we’re missing an opportunity to teach young children to respect nature, perhaps because we never learned that lesson ourselves.

Source : http://www.childrenandnature.org/news/detail/childrens_books_increasingly_ignore_natural_world/

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Plymouth Wildlife and Nature Photography Competition

OPAL South West is running a competition to find photos that capture the diverse range of wildlife and nature in Plymouth.

Winners will receive a high quality canvas print of their photograph, which will also be displayed at an exhibition at Plymouth University.

The competition is open to all ages, and we particularly encourage beginners and young photographers to enter.

There are four competition categories and three age groups –  Under 14s, 14-18, and over 18s. There will be a winner (and a highly commended photo) for each age group in each category.
Link : https://twitter.com/#!/nhm_london and https://twitter.com/#!/opalnature

Source : http://www.opalexplorenature.org/?q=southwest-photocomp