From Online to Outdoors: Biology and Wildlife Education Outdoors

Parks are wonderful in many ways. They inspire people, they are relaxing and, for many species of wildlife, the final bastion of survival. They are often hotbeds of biodiversity and a place many go to study the natural world around them, gather samples and eat outdoor lunches. However, their ability to provide hands-on learning to children about the environment and biology is one of the most valuable functions of parks.

First, the issue of hands-on learning as a viable form of teaching must be established. For this, we turn to Katie Ash, who authored an article about an experiment where students were taught hands-on about a water purification system, while others were merely lectured about it. The results are telling. “The researchers found that students who built the hands-on water purification system had ‘a deeper understanding’ of the concepts than the students who had lecture-based lessons, especially in students for whom English was not their first language.”

Hands-on learning in nature is more crucial than most people think. Children today are being exposed less and less to nature itself and instead relying more on technology. This issue is examined in a study by The Children and Nature Network, which states that: “Young people need opportunities to experience and learn from nature during their growing years in order to become citizens and future decision makers who will take responsibility for the stewardship of the Earth... For decades, environmental educators, conservationists, and others have worked, often heroically, to bring more children to nature—usually with inadequate support from policymakers.”

Luckily, things appear to be changing for the better. Parks today are as popular as they have ever been, and nature groups are also growing in popularity. This shift in thinking is indicative of the “going green” concept prevalent in today’s culture. Across the country people are encouraging and enlightening students about nature.

Make no mistake, hands-on learning via nature is effective for students, and schools, particularly elementary schools, are catching on quickly. For example, students at one California school are the newest members of a program set up by the California State University and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), known as “The Return of the Natives.” The students are tasked with harvesting and nurturing seeds at Ford Ord from the ground, learning about nature as they do so. A newsletter by Hands on the Land details the experience.
“Students are brought to the BLM land to collect seeds from the native plants. Return of the Natives and BLM staff educate the students about the importance of native plants, plant identification, and the history of Fort Ord. The seeds are sown by the students and delivered to the greenhouses located at California State Monterey Bay or the local elementary schools. Once the seedlings are ready to plant, the students are bussed to Fort Ord to plant the native seedlings at a restoration site. During the planting field trip, students have the opportunity to explore the land, plant their seedlings, and learn about the recreation opportunities available at Fort Ord.”

Programs like this are becoming much more commonplace. Teaching children in nature and with hands-on techniques have both been proven to be effective at increasing learning retention in children and making them more aware of the world around them. It is through a hands-on experience that children also learn the value of work ethic and what efforts actually go into completing a task or a process (such as with the planting activity). They are able to see the entire process of a given task and therefore gain an appreciation for what it takes to get it completed. So in this way, these nature-based excursions and activities are not only teaching them about the natural environment, but it also instills a sense of wonder as to how complex certain life forms are and the attention it takes to nurture and grow them. Educating our children about the outdoors in the outdoors not only teaches them about biology, but also about the deeper importance of supporting and sustaining it as well.

Guest blogger Madison Jones holds a BA in Biology and has worked as a researcher.  Upon realizing her passion for writing, she decided to pursue it more adamantly and now serves as a part-time freelance writer in topics ranging from biology, nature and even technology.  She enjoys hiking, running and mountain climbing in her spare time.

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